Fighting COVID 19 in Cuba, China and the United States

Photograph Source: NatalieMaynor – CC BY 2.0

Governments, according to Thomas Jefferson, are supposed to guarantee people’s rights to “life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” COVID 19 has out people’s lives and health in the spotlight now. What kind of tools do governments have at their disposal to protect lives and health?

Cuba has the advantages of forward-looking leadership, well-orchestrated state planning, and longtime prioritization of health care. Additionally, government leaders elevate scientific and technological training. They’ve established research capabilities, used results to advance health care, and marketed bio-medical products on a worldwide basis. The Cuban people and leaders know about disaster planning, as demonstrated by preparations prior to hurricanes hitting the island. Likewise planning and putting the public good first has enabled Cubans to cope with the disaster of a 60-year long economic blockade set up to make them suffer.

A survey of Cuban media reports suggests that Cuba’s government and people are prepared to handle COVID 19’s visit to the island. At this point only seven people there have been identified as infected with COVID 19, all having recently arrived from abroad.  Here we highlight Cuba’s assistance to China, where the epidemic mushroomed first and most dangerously, so far.

Cuban President Fidel Castro in 1965 pushed for the development of the National Center for Scientific Research. The Center attracted medical graduates aspiring to scientific careers and spawned a succession of other biomedical research institutes. Castro in 1981 learned about research in Texas on interferon, a new drug that showed promise in treating certain types of cancer and also viral infections. Two Cuba researchers soon were studying interferon in Houston. Within months six more had gone to Finland, where interferon had been developed. They learned about production methods.

In a short time, the Cubans were manufacturing the drug, treating patients, and marketing interferon abroad. The ChangHeber company, a Chinese-Cuban joint venture for which Cuba provides scientific support, has been producing Interferon and other drug products since 2007.  As the COVID 19 epidemic progressed in China, Cuba’s government made special administrative arrangements and sent experts to China so that ChangHeber might be able to serve China’s needs.

Unfortunately, the effectiveness of drug therapy, interferon included, in treating severely ill patients infected with COVID 19, a new illness, has yet to be scientifically validated. (See here and here.) Even so, for Cuba to lend a hand to desperately ill people in China represents another in a series of heroic undertakings Cuba has carried out in the name of human solidarity. And Cuba once more has displayed dedication to science as an essential human resource.

China has its own strengths as mentioned in laudatory editorial comment appearing in the prestigious British medical journal Lancet. One learns that in many countries “health ministers are scrambling … By striking contrast, the WHO-China joint mission report calls China’s vigorous public health measures toward this new coronavirus probably the most “ambitious, agile and aggressive disease containment effort in history … China’s success rests largely with a strong administrative system that it can mobilize in times of threat, combined with the ready agreement of the Chinese people to obey stringent public health procedures. …  [T]here are important lessons that presidents and prime ministers can learn from China’s experience.”

The United States is not so lucky. Planning ahead to serve human needs is not a strong point for the U.S. government. Dealing with the present crisis, the government seems to regard science as an afterthought. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the face of public health in the United States and locus of epidemiologic overview, had lost government funding prior to the pandemic. (The word “epidemiology,” taken from the Greek, literally says “”study of what is upon the people;” the “what” signifies disease.)

Testifying on March 11 before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, CDC director Robert Redfield MD betrayed a casual attitude toward science. A scientist himself, the former U.S. Army officer had made “several important early contributions to the scientific understanding of HIV.”

Congressman Harley Rouda asked him this: “So, we could have people in the United States dying for what appears to be influenza, when in fact it could be the coronavirus or COVID-19? Redfield replied that, “Some cases have been actually diagnosed that way in the United States to date.” The revelation passed without further questioning. The U.S. media paid no attention. News services in China pounced on the statement.

Epidemiologists ought to have been interested in the timing of the epidemic’s onset in the United States. Vagueness on the matter, as suggested by Redfield’s testimony, betrays a remarkable lack of scientific curiosity.

What the public knows is that the first case of imported Coronavirus showed up on January 21. The first cases of possible community-acquired coronavirus appeared on February 26. On February 14 the CDC indicated persons with influenza-like symptoms would be tested for COVID 19 in various U.S. cities. The results of any testing weren’t made public, although Redfield’s testimony may allude to them.

The possibility emerges that U.S. people were being infected in January, not long after Chinese authorities on December 31, 2019 informed the World Health Organization of an outbreak of a new form of coronavirus infection. Suspicion prevails in China that the epidemic may have manifested first in someplace other than China.

U.S. public health authorities seem to be similarly uncurious about other information possibly contributing to a scientific understanding of the disease origins. They are silent, for example, on the presence of 280 U.S. athletes and assistants in Wuhan, China, in October 18-27 2019. That was six weeks or so before people in that city fell ill to COVID-19 infection. Wuhan had hosted 9308 athletes from 100 countries who were participating in the Military World Games.

Additionally, public health epidemiologists have shown no sign of curiosity about the findings of a Taiwanese virologist who focused on the multiplicity of COVID 19 strains in the United States. He noted that, by contrast, a single strain of the virus prevails in other countries. Citing an example pointing to the significance of the discrepancy, the expert observed that the single strain of the virus active in Taiwan prevailed only in Australia and the United States. Australians did not carry the infection to Taiwan. Infection in Taiwan, therefore, traces back to the United States, he suggests.

The pandemic has provided, in effect, a laboratory-like demonstration of what is known: that people do better when states can plan ahead, apply national resources unequivocally to the public good, put science in the service of the people, and practice international solidarity. These are characteristics of socialist societies.

People do less well, as in the United States, when their health and welfare are subjected to the greed of moneyed interests, and when science is sold to the highest bidder.

More articles by:

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.

August 13, 2020
David Correia, Justin Bendell, and Ernesto Longa
Nine Mile Ride: Why Police Reform Always Results in More Police Violence, Not Less
Vijay Prashad
Why a Growing Force in Brazil Is Charging That President Jair Bolsonaro Has Committed Crimes Against Humanity
Brett Wilkins
Teaching Torture: The Death and Legacy of Dan Mitrione
Joseph Scalia III
Yellowstone Imperiled by Compromise
Binoy Kampmark
Don’t Stigmatise the Nuke! Opponents of the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty
Margot Rathke
The Stimulus Deal Should Include Free College
CounterPunch News Service
Critic of Wildlife Department Removed Day Before Scheduled Meetings on Revisions to Wolf-killing Protocols
Thomas Knapp
America Doesn’t Have Real Presidential Debates, But It Should
George Ochenski
Time to Face – and Plan for – Our Very Different Future
Ted Rall
Joe Biden’s Vice Presidential Pick is … ZZZZZ
Purusottam Thakur
‘If We Don’t Work, Who’ll Produce the Harvest?’
Robert Dreyfuss
October Surprise: Will War with Iran Be Trump’s Election Eve Shocker?
Gary Leupp
The RCP, Fascism, and Chairman Bob’s Endorsement of Biden for President
James Haught
The Pandemic Disproves God
Robert Koehler
Election Theft and the Reluctant Democracy
August 12, 2020
Melvin Goodman
Trump’s War On Arms Control and Disarmament
P. Sainath
“We Didn’t Bleed Him Enough”: When Normal is the Problem
Riva Enteen
Kamala Harris? Really? Desperate Times, Desperate Measures
Kenneth Surin
The Decrepit UK Political System
Robert Hunziker
Freakish Arctic Fires Alarmingly Intensify
Ramzy Baroud
The Likud Conspiracy: Israel in the Throes of a Major Political Crisis
Sam Pizzigati
Within Health Care USA, Risk and Reward Have Never Been More Out of Kilter
John Perry
The US Contracts Out Its Regime Change Operation in Nicaragua
Binoy Kampmark
Selective Maritime Rules: The United States, Diego Garcia and International Law
Manuel García, Jr.
The Improbability of CO2 Removal From the Atmosphere
Khury Petersen-Smith
The Road to Portland: The Two Decades of ‘Homeland Security’
Raouf Halaby
Teaching Palestinian Children to Love Beethoven, Bizet, and Mozart is a Threat to a Depraved Israeli Society
Jeff Mackler
Which Way for Today’s Mass Radicalization? Capitalism’s Impending Catastrophe…or a Socialist Future
Tom Engelhardt
It Could Have Been Different
Stephen Cooper
Santa Davis and the “Stalag 17” Riddim
August 11, 2020
Richard D. Wolff
Why Capitalism is in Constant Conflict With Democracy
Paul Street
Defund Fascism, Blue and Orange
Richard C. Gross
Americans Scorned
Andrew Levine
Trump and Biden, Two Ignoble Minds Here O’erthrown
Patrick Cockburn
The Rise of Nationalism Has Led to the Increased Repression of Minorities
Sonali Kolhatkar
Trump’s Presidency is a Death Cult
Colin Todhunter
Pushing GMO Crops into India: Experts Debunk High-Level Claims of Bt Cotton Success
Valerie Croft
How Indigenous Peoples are Using Ancestral Organizing Practices to Fight Mining Corporations and Covid-19
David Rovics
Tear Gas Ted Has a Tantrum in Portland
Dean Baker
There is No Evidence That Generous Unemployment Benefits are Making It Difficult to Find Workers
Robert Fantina
War on Truth: How Kashmir Struggles for Freedom of Press
Dave Lindorff
Trump Launches Attack on Social Security and Medicare
Elizabeth Schmidt
COVID-19 Poses a Huge Threat to Stability in Africa
Parth M.N.
Coping With a Deadly Virus, a Social One, Too
Thomas Knapp
The “Election Interference” Fearmongers Think You’re Stupid