It is much to think that the mainstream media today deploy reports to highlight Cuba's reputation as a biomedical power. That in less than a year the island has successfully developed five vaccine candidates against covid-19 is the key factor. The feat, unique in Latin America and perhaps on a planetary level, indeed, invites any journalist with curiosity to go beyond the usual headlines and sometimes it is impossible to cover the truth with a finger.
Although it is difficult for the hegemonic press not to speak ill of Cuba, in this case of absolute silence they have gone into the chronicle with flirtation. Not because they feel more empathy with the socialist country than by natural reaction it disgusts them, but because the samples of their current scientific prowess are absolutely robust, and much more under conditions of blockade.
The Washington Post, The New York Times and CNN are just three of the large communication companies that have dedicated reports on the subject, "revealing" to their public what is public knowledge: that despite the harsh economic conditions that the country has had to face for more than half a century, Cuban medicine is of the first level, and that with regard specifically to the issue that brings us together today, the development of medicines, having an infrastructure and a know-how of proven efficacy with six decades of experience.
And the most painful thing for the mainstream press: this story began in 1962 as a direct consequence of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. Let's travel there.
The official date of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution was January 1, 1959, the date on which the guerrilla troops commanded by Fidel Castro entered Havana and ordered the then dictator Fulgencio Batista to flee.
Cuba was then an island turned into a vacation resort for the rich of the United States, and beyond its tourism industry dedicated to that target, the bulk of its population was mired in a complete backwardness with regard to all social rights, among they naturally health.
The bearded men, led by Fidel, assaulted power promising to subvert that reality, but there was a turbulent context, a country in bankruptcy, a tenacious internal opposition that quickly undertook its exodus, a much more tenacious external opposition with a terrorist vocation, measures of emergency in all areas of social life and as a corollary the beginning of the economic embargo by the United States in October 1960 as an initiative of President Dwight D. Eisenhower to try to bend the socialist vocation of the incipient rebel government.
However, the Revolution had a clear road map. In 1962 he undertook the task of undertaking the Cuban Immunization Program, and with this his first major vaccination campaign. By then, communicable diseases - including those preventable by vaccines - were the main cause of morbidity and mortality in the child population.
Thanks to this first campaign, the island became the first country to eradicate polio. Thus, an effort that summoned all sectors of the country bore fruit; However, in the balance after this effort, the revolutionary leaders agreed that they could not be satisfied with only applying vaccines, but that they should produce them with total sovereignty. This is because in a blocked country any resource that is not autonomous is automatically finite.
So, betting on a structural public policy of medical innovation, over the years a platform was built that today brings together 32 state-owned companies where more than 10 workers with exclusive dedication to the production of medicines and vaccines.
Based on the scheme used in the Antillean country for mass immunization against 13 diseases, of the eleven vaccines that are applied, eight are produced in a sovereign manner within the territory and with its own resources. Its immunization coverage is higher than 98 percent, all this endorsed by the WHO, according to data from the BioCubaFarma group. The island's endorsements in this regard include the BC meningococcal vaccine, the only one in the world with proven efficacy to combat B and C meningitis; Heberbiovac HB, a recombinant preventive vaccine against hepatitis b, and more recently two anticancer drugs: CIMAher, an immunotherapeutic drug against pancreatic cancer, and CIMAvax-EGF, the first therapeutic vaccine against non-small cell lung cancer.
"Its organization and uninterrupted execution have allowed six diseases, two serious clinical forms and two serious complications to be eliminated, and the remaining ones maintain incidence and mortality rates that do not constitute a health problem," they say in an article published in the Pan American Journal of Health in 2018 entitled Cuban Experience in Immunization, 1962–2016.
Annually, in Cuba, on average, 4.800.000 doses of simple or combined vaccines are administered, including a pentavalent one whose five components are produced in the country. Recent results of Cuban investigations have influenced the World Eradication Program. Universal vaccination against hepatitis B at 24 hours after birth was completed 19 years before the goal set by WHO using a national vaccine.
“In Cuba, vaccination is free, of universal access, it is integrated into primary health care, and the commitment and political will to the health of the population are carried through a comprehensive health system. Information and epidemiological surveillance are systematic, reliable, and sensitive. Vaccination coverage is achieved above 98% in all vaccines and the population has a high immune level ”, highlights the text.
Vaccines that add to GDP
It is also important to say that Cuban drugs are not only dedicated to meeting their domestic demand but also to export, with humanitarian but also commercial criteria. The island's income from the sale of medicines is an important part of its gross domestic product.
Cuban professionals have received ten gold medals from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) for 26 years; its biotech products were exported to 49 countries before the pandemic, including vaccines used in childhood immunization programs in Latin America.
Experiences in countries on five continents speak of the effectiveness of Cuban drugs. Even in the United States, where since 2017, specifically in New York City, the drug Cimavax for lung cancer has been used with successful results.
With that medical record, Cuba reaches March 2020, when the new coronavirus takes the world by storm. Aware of the need to work on a sovereign vaccine, three teams join, that of the Carlos Finlay Vaccine Institute (IFV), which he leads, together with laboratories from the Center for Molecular Immunology and the University of Havana. President Miguel Díaz Canel himself in a meeting with the elite group on May 19, 2020. Since then, five vaccines have been developed and two are about to be approved for mass use, including one that will be produced in Venezuela.
Sovereign vaccine family. A report from Cuba details that Cuba produces five vaccines in two different institutions as a strategic plan to avoid competing in resources and to achieve a broader range of action.
They are: the Soberana 1, Soberana 2 and Soberana Plus vaccines, from the Finlay Institute in alliance with the Center for Molecular Immunology (CIM) and the Center for Biopreparations; and the Abdala and Mambisa sera, from the laboratories of the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB).
Of these vaccines, Sovereign 3 and Abdala are already in phase 2 testing. The latter will be produced in Venezuelan laboratories to join the national immunization scheme. In addition, it is also planned that they will be sent to Mexico, Jamaica, Vietnam, India, Pakistan as well as the 55 countries of the African Union.
Everything indicates that Cuban vaccines, the only ones developed up to now in Latin America, are heading to be instituted as vaccines for the peoples of the South. Another page for the history of Cuban medicine, a marvel of innovation in resistance.
In addition to the five sera whose development is already under way, Cuba is preparing a sixth vaccine in collaboration with China, and it is specially designed to attack new strains of the virus that may appear progressively.
Cuba's CIGB has partnered with colleagues from the Asian giant to work on a new serum called Pan-Corona, which will use parts of the virus that are preserved, not exposed to variations, to generate antibodies, combined with parts that target cellular responses.
In this project, the Cubans contribute the experience and the personnel, while the Chinese contribute the equipment and resources. The research will be carried out at the Yongzhou Joint Center for Biotechnological Innovation, in the Chinese province of Hunan, which was established last year with equipment and laboratories designed by Cuban specialists.
Gerardo Guillén, director of biomedical sciences at the CIGB, affirmed that the proposal "could protect against epidemiological emergencies of new strains of coronavirus that may occur in the future," Cubadebate reported. The project builds on nearly two decades of Cuban-China medical science collaboration, including five joint ventures in the biotech sector.