Cuban ambassador to Greece, Zelmys María Domínguez Cortina, spoke to Sputnik Hellas about Cuban vaccines for COVID-19, tensions between Cuba and the U.S., and the mud thrown against the Cuban medical brigade, which is a candidate for Nobel Peace Prize.
One of the flagships of the Cuban revolution, despite the relentless campaign of boycotts and sabotage by the US government, is the health sector.
This was achieved through the training of highly qualified professionals, the free – for all citizens – health system and of preventive medicine, which triumphed in the country and in the fight against COVID-19, with overwhelmingly low mortality rates.
The development of medical science in Cuba has continued to such an extent and with such achievements against COVID-19, with four vaccines being in an advanced stage that the Cuban ambassador said:
“The triumph of the 1959 revolution, in defiance of successive multiple attempts to overthrow the socialist government by all U.S. governments, but also of the unjust economic, commercial and financial blockade, in violation of international law, affects not only Cuba, but also third parties “.
Health and vaccines for COVID-19
The biotechnology sector, a priority of Fidel Castro, has allowed Cuba, the ambassador explains, to be able to respond to emergencies caused by the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Since the outbreak of the virus [March 2019] our national system of science, technology and innovation, together with the selfless work of doctors, nursing staff, technicians and other health workers, have become the main ‘locomotive’ against the pandemic,” she said.
“As a result, we are among the nations with the lowest mortality rates in the United States and internationally,” she continued, adding that “ore than 20 Cuban medicines are currently part of the protocols for the treatment and prevention of COVID-19.”
With the appearance of the first cases of COVID-19 in Cuba, the National Center for Biopreparations (BIOCEN) was dedicated to the manufacture of biotechnology drugs used against COVID-19.
“We started with the inclusion of recombinant human interferon ALFA 2B (brand name Heberón) in COVID-19 treatment protocols,” said the experienced ambassador.
“According to MINSAP data, as of April 14, 2020, 93.4% of patients with the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 had been treated with interferon and only 5.5% of them had worsening,” she explained.
“The mortality rate was 2.7%, while for patients where interferon ALFA 2B was used it was only 0.9%,” she added.
The national health plan moves step by step with exemplary coordination, as it analyzes it.
BioCen researchers have developed the first virus-transmitting (BTV) vehicle in Cuba, designed to collect and transport nasopharyngeal and oral pharyngeal clinical specimens from patients for the diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2.
“This is something that can be described as a real milestone,” said the Cuban ambassador.
Immediately, Cuba developed new diagnostic methods for SARS-CoV-2 (the Immunoassay Center) and created the first prototype of an assisted ventilator, which was the result of a collaboration between the Cuban Center for Neuroscience, the Combi Company, the Center for State Control of Drugs, Medical Equipment and Devices (CECMED) and the National Office of State Planning.
Led by the Institute of Hematology and Immunology, in May 2019, clinical trials with stem cells began to successfully treat pulmonary side effects in patients infected with the COVID-19 virus, the ambassador explained.
The eyes of the international scientific community, as well as governments, are, however, focused on research into COVID-19 vaccines. There are four in progress.
What stage exactly is it in?
“On August 24, Cuba began clinical trials to test the first vaccine, called SOBERANA 1, designed by scientists at the Finlay Vaccine Institute. In early November, phase I clinical trials of a second vaccine, named Soberana 2, began,” she said.
According to the doctor Vicente Vérez Bencomo, general director of Finlay Vaccine Institute, this is an unprecedented conjugate vaccine.
License for two vaccines to initiate clinical trials
Researchers from the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) then presented two more candidate vaccines in Cuba, named Mambisa and Abdala.
“The first will be administered nasally, while the second should be used intramuscularly,” she said.
“At the end of November, both vaccines were licensed by CECMED to begin clinical trials, so Cuba already has four candidate vaccines in the clinical trial phase, an achievement of the country’s national biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry, despite the U.S. war,” emphasized the ambassador.
“There are currently more than 80 COVID-19-related research projects that have been completed or are ongoing since the pandemic began.
“The Cuban biopharmaceutical industry produces eight of the vaccines used in the immunization program,” Cortina explained.
In the wider, non-COVID-19, vaccination “front”, the numbers are… overwhelming: there is 100% coverage in the vaccination program of the entire Cuban population , one of the highest in the world.
Result: The elimination of a group of diseases has been achieved .
We are talking about the meningitis vaccine type B and C, which was the first of its kind in the world and began to be administered on the island in the early 1990s, the hepatitis B vaccine, the first in Latin America with certification from the World Health Organization (WHO), for the Haemophilus Influenzae type B vaccine, the Heberpenta vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B and others.
Cuban achievements include the ratio of 9 doctors per 1,000 inhabitants, the highest in the world, while access to health is a right in Cuba.
The health sector has always remained among the priorities of the Cuban Government, which in 2019 allocated 27.5% of the budgeted social expenditures to it.
And all this despite the “unjust economic, trade and financial blockade of the United States against Cuba, which is the main obstacle to its development,” as the Cuban ambassador admitted in our conversation.
“Even areas in which our country has internationally recognized results, such as health and education, are not excluded from the serious effects of US criminal policy,” she added.
“From April 2019 to March 2020, U.S. sanctions losses. The accumulated losses during almost six decades of implementing this aggressive policy reach an astronomical monetary amount,” she explained.
“And the current US government, under Donald Trump, has escalated hostilities to harm the basic needs of the Cuban people, even promoting a social outbreak in Cuba with campaigns against our doctors. In addition, Cuba is among the countries that support terrorism!” Cortina added.
And yet. Despite the mud war, officially the Henry Reeve Brigade, the heroic team of Cuban doctors, that travels where there is a need for healthcare, is nominated for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize.
And this is thanks to the Greek initiative to collect more than 215,000 signatures.
“Since the triumph of the Revolution, Cuba has been distinguished for its spirit of solidarity and internationalism, which led to the deployment of medical brigades and medical students to various countries,” the ambassador said.
The brigade has received coordinated defamation attacks, but “its work and attitude are crushing the mud campaigns. Our international body of doctors is specialized in disaster situations and serious epidemics,” Cortina said.
“The Henry Reeve Brigade worked selflessly everywhere, in earthquakes, in the fight against Ebola in Africa, and is now fighting COVID-19 in many countries,” the ambassador continued.
She explained that “all Cuban health professionals who joined the brigades did it freely and voluntarily and without any kind of coercion. The presence of health technicians and professionals in more than 60 countries and territories are always based on bilateral agreements signed between the respective Ministries of Health.
“In some cases, the WHO has also participated,” she added.
“Greece has been a catalyst for the nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize,” the ambassador said.
“We are very grateful for everything you have done in Greece, for the friends who have supported the initiative since March 2020. We are really grateful,” concluded Cortina.