The tightening of the U.S. embargo against Cuba in 1992 has had a devastating impact on the health of ordinary Cubans, with patients often denied essential drugs and doctors working without adequate equipment, according to a new study.
The study, carried out by the Washington-based American Association for World Health, says the impact has been particularly severe on women, children, the elderly and people with chronic diseases.
"Our medical delegation found the tightening of the embargo has had unintended consequences on the health of the Cuban people, including unnecessary suffering and deaths," said Peter Bourne, chairman of the group's board and a former top adviser on health issues to President Carter.
The study, released last week, was based largely on a trip to Cuba last October by nine medical experts, who visited 46 patient-care facilities and 15 nongovernmental organizations.
Bourne said Cuba cannot get spare parts for the U.S. equipment it has. "We witnessed kidney dialysis, X-ray, respirators, incubators and other lifesaving machinery standing idle for want of U.S.-produced spare parts," he said.
Previously, the State Department has said Cuba's health problems are caused primarily by what it calls Cuba's failed system. It also has noted that more than $100 million in humanitarian donations have been sent to Cuba legally in recent years by U.S. citizens and organizations.
The principal author of the 1992 law, Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.), said the shortages alluded to in the study "are the result not of any action by the U.S. government but rather of Castro's refusal to loosen his grip on the country's centralized economy and on the Cuban people."
The study said a "human catastrophe" in Cuba has been averted only because the Cuban government has given high priority to its healthcare system.
It cited several negative effects of the 1992 legislation, titled the Cuba Democracy Act:
A ban on trade with Cuba by U.S. subsidiaries in third countries has severely constrained Cuba's ability to import medicines and medical supplies from traditional sources. Before the ban, about 90% of such sales were carried out by food exporters.
Although U.S. government agencies are authorized under the law to license individual sales of medicines and medical supplies, the licensing provisions are so arduous that they discourage medical commerce. Ten of 12 U.S. companies stated that red tape prevented them from fulfilling Cuba's desire to buy goods.
Shippers are strongly discouraged from delivering medical equipment to Cuba because of a provision barring them from visiting U.S. ports for 180 days after delivering cargo to Cuba. The provision has forced Cuba to spend $8.7 million more for medicine in Asia, Europe and the South America compared with the cost in the United States.
The Association for World Health is a private charity and educational organization affiliated with the World Health Organization.