Luis Jesús has been unable to acquire the Theophylline (200 mg) he needs for his on-going treatment of chronic asthma. He lives on a third floor, in the Colón district of Central Havana, and has a hard time climbing the stairs. As he can never be certain of when the drugs will arrive at the pharmacy, and the worsening of his crises, he has decided to move from the house where he has lived for more than 30 years.
"I can no longer climb these stairs without gasping for breath. I am almost trapped, so I have to do something about it, because I can't starve to death either. I’ve been suffering asthma attacks every other day for two months now," Luis Jesus complained. He has not been able to obtain Prednisolone, another of the medications missing at the state chain of pharmacies, either.
Suspension antibiotics for children, and syrups, are medicines that are also scant, according to the statements by Havana respondents, who have had to resort to international pharmacies selling medicines in foreign currency.
"You can't get any antibiotics, not even on the black market," said Arletis Castro, the mother of a two-year-old girl.
"There's no amoxicillin suspension for children. Not even at spiritual masses. I had to buy Scott's emulsion (a vitamin supplement) at the stores accepting foreign currency, for almost eight CUC per bottle, just to manage. But no worker has got the money to pay that, especially when his condition is long-term, as in my daughter’s case."
The story of the writer Adriana Normand is not an isolated case, but rather describes the struggles of tens of thousands of Cubans who, in the face of the growing drug shortage on the island, can do little but file complaints.
"I suffer from depression, like many in Cuba, and for more than four years I have been dependent on Sertraline, a drug that regulates the production of serotonin. At the beginning I needed half a tablet a day, now I take two, the dose that I’ve been taking for a couple of years," Normand explained.
"First I had to go to the hospital to get them every month, but, a while back, they began to send them to the pharmacy closest to me. Two bottles of 30 pills to get through the month, two bottles that have not arrived for months now. In those cases I have to search for it in my town, and, if I can't find it, request a transfer; a process that consists of my pharmacy coordinating with one where they do have it, so they can sell me half of what I’m supposed to take. This means that I must choose between taking it properly for 15 days a month, or a half dose for 30 days. I usually prefer the first option."
"I have trouble falling asleep, because there has been no Alprazolam, another drug that is essential for me to sleep, at the pharmacy for months," complained the writer, who turned to her friends in Spain to get some doses of Sertraline sent to her.
Sertraline, this reporter could confirm, is a medicine produced in Cuba.
Pain relievers and antihistamines are also considered "luxury medications" by the populace, often available only to those who can pay for them, at bloated prices, or to those who get up early to visit medical offices and pharmacies, to ensure that the medication has not run out, as the stocks at dispensaries do not last even a day.
According to the 2018 Statistical Health Yearbook, the incidence of Diabetes in Havana is 81.7/1,000 inhabitants, and medications for this condition have been, precisely, among the most lacking this year.
A manager of a pharmacy in Boyeros, who asked not to be identified, confirmed for DIARIO DE CUBA that the supply of both metformin and glibenclamide has been "irregular for months."
"You can't even find it on the black market. This means that, on the one hand, the medicines that are normally produced in the country no longer are, and, on the other, that those that are imported are not reaching the country. None of this is explained to the population," the manager observed.
Last August, the director of Operations and Technology for the Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Industries Group of Cuba (BioCubaFarma), Rita María García, admitted the absence in the network of state pharmacies, where medications are acquired in national currency, of between 40 and 47 medicines in the months of June and July. A similar number could continue to be lacking in the coming months, she noted.
García also stated that the shortage of medicines is, in part, a consequence of "internal control" vulnerabilities, which have fuelled the black market, though she did not specify the magnitude of this, nor what measures would be implemented to correct this problem at the entities attached to the Ministry of Health.