Door by Door the Cuban Government Delivers Immune Boosting Medicine to the People

By Susana Hurlich on April 9, 2020

Medical Student going door to door. Photo: Abel Padrón Padilla

Hola from Havana. This morning at 7am, I took the first dose of the homeopathic medication ProvengHo-Vir that the Cuban health system is distributing. Late yesterday afternoon, at about 5pm, Dr. Yaisen, one of the three doctors working at our local family doctor clinic located some two blocks from my home, came by the house to give me the small 10 mL plastic bottle of ProvengHo-Vir and to explain how to use it.

The day before (Tuesday), there was meetings around the country, usually held at the local polyclinic that has a number of family doctor “consultorios” (local doctor’s offices) under them, to explain the distribution process.

In addition to a bag with lots of small bottles of this medication, Dr. Yaisen had a pile of blank white papers that each household was asked to sign when they received the medication. Each sheet probably held 20-30 signatures. Along with explaining its use – and asking that the recipient repeat this to make sure it was understood – Dr. Yaisen handed out a small printed sheet of paper that carefully explains everything one could possibly need to know about ProvengHo-Vir: its composition, pharmaceutical form, indications (what it does) and counter-indications (none), precautions, the dosage and instructions for use, possible adverse reactions (none) and how to store it. And there’s a little graphic showing how to open the bottle and make a hole in the top for counting out the drops.

Without going into all the details about the composition of PrevengHo-Vir –other than saying that it includes components of the AH1N1 and AH3N2 influenza viruses and substances of a vaccine against seasonal flu – what this homeopathic medication does is to help prevent influenza and other flu-like diseases, dengue and emerging (new!) viral infections.

PrevengHo-Vir is NOT a vaccine, but only an additional protection to help reinforce one’s immune system.

And it’s being distributed free to every household in Cuba (total population over 11.3 million; I have no idea how many households there are) through Cuba’s comprehensive public health system. At the  grassroots level, this means the neighborhood Family Doctor and Nurse Clinic of which there are 11,432 located around the country coming under 449 polyclinics. Presently, Cuba has about one doctor for every 122 inhabitants and one nurse for every 128 inhabitants.

A tiny bit of history: Cuba’s Family Doctor program began in 1984 at the initiative of Fidel, with the overall objective being that primary and preventive health care, to be truly effective, must be taken to every corner of the country, no matter how remote. In so many ways, this is the heart of Cuba’s National Health System: make a health structure available and responsive to all, and work to prevent health problems before they become serious.

And this is also the same logic behind Cuba’s program against COVID-19: educate and mobilize the people around principles of discipline, cooperation and solidarity, and keep them constantly informed so that they can be active and responsible participants in the fight against coronavirus.

In Cuba, we have some 89,000 doctors (including family doctors), 84,000 nurses and some 9,000 young people who will be graduating from their various medical studies in July. And this isn’t counting health technicians, ambulance drivers and others who all help make it work. But it’s because of these numbers, which are the real reflection of a country committed to a preventive health system, that Cuba is able to provide solidarity health assistance to 16 countries, Mexico being the most recent, in their local battles against COVID-19, without compromising the quality of care of its own people.

Another important thing about Cuba’s medical system is that rather than being two-tiered, as is often the case in other countries, with “classical medicine” on the one hand and “alternative medicine” on the other, Cuba has ONE health system that includes it all. When you study to become a doctor, you also learn about homeopathic medicine in all its forms. And Cuba has a highly developed capacity in this regard.

And that’s where PrevengHo-Vir comes in. As I mentioned, it’s a sublingual immunological booster which, since early March, has been applied to at-risk groups in various parts of the country – in Pinar del Río, Mayabeque, etc. – in isolation centers, elderly and mother-infant homes, and in hospitals caring for people who are positive or suspected of having COVID-19.

As I mentioned, it’s being distributed free and it’s being provided to the entire population of this country! I’m actually starting to get calls from several of my neighbors with questions about how to use it, how to store it, etc. My neighbors often tell me that I’m their local mobile Encyclopedia and they call me with lots of questions. It actually keeps me on my toes, making sure I have correct and official information. Don’t put it in the fridge. Don’t put it near electric-domestic appliances as the electric impulses can actually neutralize homeopathic medications, etc. Store it in your medicine cabinet away from computers, radios, etc.

Just to mention: this morning, on the daily 11am televised and radio-transmitted Press Conference, it was the Minister of Public Health, José Angel Portal Miranda, who spoke. We now have 457 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and since the first case was detected on March 11th, there have been twelve deaths. Twenty-seven have been given the all clear sign, two were evacuated, and sixteen are in serious condition.

There are six cases where transmission has been local – not connected with sick people coming from outside the country, be they foreigners or Cubans. Because of this, Cuba’s health authorities have decided that the country has now passed to the second of three stages of the disease: limited local transmission. This is considered a transitional stage which may well lead to the third stage of epidemic. In anticipation, the country is taking measures to prepare: increasing the number of available beds for both hospitalization as well as for intensive care, increasing the number of laboratories in the country (presently there are still three, in Havana, Santa Clara and Santiago de Cuba), and identifying some areas for quarantine.

It is impressive experiencing what this country is doing, both domestically and internationally, to battle this disease. A country with tremendous shortages of resources and yet with a health system that is equal to the best and respected by many, many countries in the world.

It is humbling living in a country that truly puts its efforts behind its main objective: protecting the population first and foremost. No matter if the economy – except for food production and other vital necessities – collapses. It’s collapsing everywhere in the world. But without a healthy population it will be impossible to pick it up again. And Cuba’s key resource is so clearly the people – ALL the people. It is humbling seeing that value in operation.

And it is also inspiring, as Cuba, while reeling under a constantly intensifying and cruel blockade, continues to provide a model that another world is possible. It is a privilege and an honor to live here, contributing – as we always say in Cuba – one’s small grain of sand to the new mountain we hope to build.

Finally, as I always say: be sure to embrace a tree, a cat, a dog.  It is not social distancing that is important, but physical distancing. Socially there are so many ways to remain connected, so many ways to give and receive love and support – phone calls, texting, email, calling out to neighbors across the street when they go to their windows, going onto your veranda and playing an instrument or singing a song (lovely how people respond to this)…but the physical distancing is crucial.

Take care of yourselves. And in doing so, you’ll be taking care of each other.

Love, Susana

Susana Hurlich is a writer and has been living and working for over 30 years in Cuba