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'We All Have Scabies Here'

Some Cubans already have sores on their skin from going without treatment: "People are really suffering," says a woman from Holguin with a sick baby.

The torso of a woman and the hand of a man suffering from scabies.
The torso of a woman and the hand of a man suffering from scabies. Diario de Cuba

The acute lack of medicines is allowing controllable diseases to spread throughout Cuba, creating unbearable situations for many families. Such is the case with scabies, which Cubans constantly complain about on social media and that is on its way to becoming widespread in Mayarí, Holguín.

"We've all had it in my house for two months," says Luis Torres, a retiree from the nickel industry. "This is unbearable, no one can sleep at night, and we don't know what to do. They don’t sell medicines for it, and the herbs help, but don’t completely cure it. Doctors used to tell you not to self-medicate, and now they tell you 'go see what medicine you can get out there'".

Yenny's case is worse, as one of her sick children is still nursing: "I’d never suffered like this, not even in the  Special Period, because in the 90s there were problems with medications, but not like now."

"My heart breaks for my two daughters, with their beautiful skin, and now they're full of sores, and itching, day or night, going crazy itching, just like us parents. And my baby too, full of rashes and crying all the time. I don't know what to give him because I'm afraid of hurting him by improvising my own medicines. This is terrible," Yenny complains.

"There had never been a lack of Permethrin and Lindane like this. Or of antibiotics. Now there is nothing, there are no medications, and people are really suffering, from headaches, itching, high blood pressure, everything. We don't even have an antihistamine to alleviate the allergy caused by this scabies," she adds.

"The sores become infected, and we have no way to cure them. All I got was crystal violet, and we all look like smurfs, full of blue spots. Except for the baby, of course. Luckily, he doesn't have sores yet."

Idalia Ramírez's children have not been to school since January, also due to scabies. She explained: "there are several in each classroom that are missing for the same reason. Right now it would be better to send those who don't have it home, as there are more people with scabies than without. This can’t be cured without medication, and one gives it to other people. And when someone gets it at home, everyone gets it, regardless of your hygiene. It spreads anyway".

"My daughter is in preschool and I'm not really concerned about her being absent, but my boy is in secondary school and he might miss out on the year, because he's had scabies for two months and they won't take him at school like that. And it's been bad, with many sores all over his body, mainly on his hands and penis. It's horrible and exasperating to see your children sick, and not be able to do anything because there are no medications. I went to the hospital and there's nothing to cure it either. It's a tragedy," this mother complained.

Scabies is caused by the parasite Sarcoptes scabiei, a microscopic mite that tends to cause itching by secreting an allergenic toxin as it penetrates the skin and reproduces. In some people it only triggers this insufferable discomfort, but in others scabies can be accompanied by microbe-induced lesions such as pyodermatitis and lymphangitis.

With the right medications, such as Permethrin, Lindane, and Benzyl Benzoate, it can be cured with relative ease. Otherwise one can suffer scabies for very long periods. In the case of associated skin infections produced by staphylococci and streptococci, it calls for treatment with antibiotics, or more severe complications can ensue.

But there are dire shortages of all these medicines (not sporadic, as during other times) in Cuba, and there is no solution is in sight, in terms of supplies. The government is practically avoiding the subject altogether. It seems to only be paying attention to the status of vaccines against Covid-19, and neglecting other diseases that can be equally or more dangerous.

On the Mesa Redonda television program on Wednesday, February 10, Marino Murillo (official spokesman for the Tarea Ordenamiento measures) announced a reduction in the prices of medications whose prices had risen astronomically last month, but said nothing about when the pharmacies that have been empty for more than three years will be restocked. Meanwhile, the people are suffering from curable plagues, and municipalities like Mayarí run the real risk of a massive medieval-style scabies outbreak.

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