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Vol. 80/No. 14      April 11, 2016

(feature article)

Cuba anti-Zika fight shows difference revolution makes

Before there was one case of Zika, a mosquito-borne virus, in Cuba the revolutionary government began organizing to combat it. In February President Raúl Castro issued a “Call to our people” to join the efforts of health care workers, unions and other mass organizations to keep mosquitos at “levels that are not dangerous.”

In the U.S. colony of Puerto Rico, however, government officials have almost given up the fight before it has begun. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told the New York Times they expect a quarter of Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million people will get the disease within a year.

The Zika virus has spread to 32 countries in the Americas. It is transmitted by the Aedes mosquito, which also carries dengue and the chikungunya virus.

Zika came to international attention when news broke that it was linked in Brazil to an outbreak of microcephaly — an abnormally small head in infants of pregnant women who catch the virus. There are 508 confirmed cases with the birth defect in Brazil and may be as many as 3,900. Some 1.5 million Brazilians have been infected with the virus.

Cuba’s response is graphic proof of the difference a socialist revolution makes. In Cuba health care is not a business with the central goal of maximizing profit but a human right and central priority of the entire society.

In his call, Castro announced that 9,000 soldiers and army officers, both active duty and reserve, and 200 police officials, had joined the effort to eliminate breeding grounds as well as fumigate at workplaces and in residential areas, both inside and outside.

Soldiers, health workers and student volunteers have being going door to door to educate people on how to prevent the disease and to eliminate stagnant water, trash and other conditions that allow the mosquitos to breed.

In Mayabeque alone, more than 1,500 medical students are going door to door, reported Juventud Rebelde.

In Havana more than 9,000 members of the Federation of University Students and 1,200 members of the Federation of High School Students have been part of the day-to-day effort.

“We check 30 houses a day,” first-year medical student Diolexis Torres Salabarría told the paper. “We explain the precise health measures, the causes and symptoms of Zika, chikungunya, dengue and yellow fever, as well as other tasks that contribute to a clean and healthy city.”

Students from around the world who are studying medicine in Cuba have joined the effort.

“I’ve learned a lot, above all how to find the breeding grounds of Aedes,” said Caetano Zumba, from Angola. “In Cuba the training is not just theoretical, but practical. This will be a big help when I return to my country.”

In some parts of the country, the anti-Zika teams have faced some resistance. “Most people cooperate,” Manuel Ángel Sobrino Prado, a health care worker in Cienfuegos who fumigates house to house, told Juventud Rebelde. “But there are always those difficult cases.”

In Sancti Spíritus, more than 3,335 fines have been issued to people and workplaces that don’t eliminate stagnant water or leave out garbage. The focus of the effort is on raising consciousness about the risks, Norma Martín Alonso, a government worker there, told the paper, but fines are issued for repeat offenders.

The revolutionary effort is paying off. As of March 25 there were only seven cases of Zika in Cuba, most in people traveling from other countries.

Puerto Rico heads to disaster

Under colonial rule Puerto Rico, in contrast, is heading for a disaster. Health officials reported March 28 that there are 350 confirmed cases of Zika, including 40 in pregnant women, with 100 new cases last week.

Under the impact of the capitalist economic crisis, thousands of Puerto Ricans have been immigrating to the United States. Abandoned homes abound, many with birdbaths, pools and unsealed septic tanks. Many schools have no air conditioning or even window screens. Thousands of government workers, including health care workers, have been laid off in massive budget cuts.

The response in Puerto Rico has been lackluster at best. The government did move 900,000 used tires, potential mosquito breeding grounds, away from residential areas.

With no plan to wipe out the mosquito, install screens at all the schools, or systematically fumigate homes, officials there say they will focus on pregnant women.

About 5,000 pregnant women have attended lectures on Zika at government-operated clinics.

At one class of seven women attended by a New York Times reporter, the clinic had already run out of kits it was supposed to give to participants with insect repellent, a mosquito net and condoms — the disease can also spread through sexual contact. It had only received 30.

“I’m not going to oversell this,” Dr. Johnny Rullán, a special Zika adviser to the governor of Puerto Rico, told the Times. “It’s not a perfect world. We’ll do as much as we can.”
Related articles:
Castro, Cuban people answer ‘sugar-coated’ words of Obama
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