Dengue: A State Secret

In our country, the dengue had been wiped out by 1940, in spite of the fact that Cuba was surrounded by countries where the evil illness existed (Bolivia, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Venezuela, etc.). The reason was that Cuban health authorities, at that time, were exercising strict control to prevent importation of the disease (and many others) into the island.

Thus, the virus had been kept out of the country until 1977, when it reappeared, wreaking havoc. During the epidemic, the government’s failure to inform the public took a toll of first lives – first victims among the citizens who mistakenly attributed the symptoms to a bad cold or to a mild disease resembling the flu commonly known as “andancio”. At present, we already know that there is no specific medicine to cure the dengue, which is often asymptomatic, and we also know that an early diagnosis and appropriate clinical treatment may reduce the mortality rate.

CubaRaw
CubaRaw

I myself once fell victim of the “andancio”, and my husband and daughter too. Me and my husband both went to work, regardless of the fever, weakness and unbearable pain in the joints, which we weren’t able to manage with painkillers. At that time I worked as an assistant headmaster at Thomas Alva Edison elementary school. As I wasn’t able to feign being well, the mother of one of the students, Ofelia Lopez Gonzalez, who worked at an oncology hospital, noticed my bad health condition and warned me of the danger I was running. It was the first time I heard about dengue.

We immediately went to the health officer at the Surgical Hospital of Diez de Octubre. When we voiced our concerns to the attending doctor, we didn’t need to wait for his answer: the astonished expression in his face was sufficient for us to realize that we did have contracted dengue.

Another large epidemic of the dengue broke out in 1981, this time with haemorrhagic symptoms. People who were infected with the dengue 1 virus (as the doctors called it) in 1977 were at highest risk, since their platelet count was very low and that was the cause of the bleeding. The second strain of the virus with the haemorrhagic symptoms was called secondary, or dengue 2.

The government of the Castro brothers took the opportunity of the dengue 2 epidemic to blame the USA and their special secret services of having introduced the virus in Cuba, regardless of the fact that the real culprits were the health authorities, which failed (and still fail) to take all necessary measures to carry out epidemiological surveillance, such as quarantining people coming to Cuba from countries where such diseases exist.

Mosquitoes have had their habitat in Cuba for some time, especially in the capital. The main causes that have contributed to the present situation include, for example, the need to store potable water or highly unsatisfactory environmental hygiene, among others. Household rubbish is left in the streets for several days, supposedly due to a lack of garbage trucks. Most garbage containers are broken and around them there are piles of rubbish, where mosquitoes, rats, cockroaches and other vectors thrive. Due to the bad condition of the plumbing and public utilities there are many leaks in the water and sewage systems, resulting in pools and puddles, which almost always contain eggs of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Fumigation, which should be used as a preventive measure, is inconsistent and is only done when a dengue epidemic is at its peak. Another cause of the unsanitary conditions favouring proliferation of the mosquito is overpopulation and lack of economic resources that could be used to fix leaks and purchase cleaning products allowing people to maintain personal and household hygiene.

Some residents in the area of the Dolores and Calle 10 streets, where the Polyclinics of Lawton is located, have informed of confidential meetings between the Municipal Health Director, the Cuban Communist Party Secretary and the President of the National Assembly of the People’s Power. This gives us a hint that we are facing a new epidemic. And, as we already know, failure to inform the population makes the epidemiological situation worse. Municipal inspectors do witch hunts, searching for leaks in plumbing and if they find any, they give the owners 24 hours to repair them, threatening to fine them if they fail to do so in time. Yet, a fair and efficient solution would be to carry out measures to support citizens whose economic situation makes it impossible for them to undertake such repairs on their own.

According to a source who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, we know that there have been over 9,000 cases of dengue in the capital and that there have also been cases of cholera. Hospitals are preparing to receive new cases. In spite of all that, the official press hasn’t imparted any information about this situation. Perhaps one day, in a few years, an official will talk about this scourge on TV, trying to find a scapegoat, as was the case of the epidemic of the haemorrhagic dengue in 1981, of which the public hadn’t been informed until 1999.

And while the various plagues remain a State secret, they keep claiming their victims.