More foreign visitors to Cuba contracting cholera

HAVANA, Cuba, Thursday August 29, 2013 – A recent report out of Havana stating that a total of 12 foreign tourists and 151 Cubans have come down with cholera in recent months appears to suggest growing transparency by Cuban officials who previously kept quiet about the disease in an attempt to avoid damaging the island’s $2.5 billion-a-year tourism industry, according to experts.

A bulletin issued on Friday by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said Cuba had reported 163 cases of the disease in the provinces of Havana, Santiago de Cuba and Camagüey. PAHO pinpointed no specific time period, indicating only that those cases had taken place this year.

Included in the reported cases were a dozen persons who had travelled to the communist Caribbean island from other countries: three from Italy, two each from Germany, Spain, Chile and Venezuela and one from the Netherlands. According to PAHO, Cuba had reported six of those cases earlier this month.

Other sources, including independent journalists and visitors, have nevertheless been reporting hundreds more cases which have never been confirmed by Havana, where the state-run news media rarely uses the word “cholera,” referring instead to cases of “acute diarrheic diseases.”

Cuba-born New York high school teacher Alfredo Gómez, who contracted cholera during a family visit to Havana this summer, told the Miami Herald that at least six and up to 15 foreigners were on the hospital ward each of the six days he spent there, from August 4 to 10, receiving antibiotics and intravenous fluids for the disease, which is easily transmitted through water and can kill through dehydration.

Gómez, who left Cuba in 1997, said that he and two relatives were hit by intense diarrhoea two days after they ate together at a state-run restaurant in Havana in late July.

Doctors at the Manuel Fajardo Hospital told them they had cholera, Gómez said, and transferred him to the Pedro Kouri Institute of Tropical Medicine, where the fourth floor of the hospital is reserved for foreigners who contract the disease.

That same week more than 60 Cubans were being treated in Kouri hospital wards reserved for island residents with cholera, the 49-year-old teacher said, and a nephew told him that a large number of people had been struck by the disease in the Havana suburb of Mantilla.

The treatment for foreigners at the hospital was very good and much better than the treatment for island residents, he added in the Miami Herald report. Problems were nevertheless said to have started when the foreign patients received huge bills as they were about the leave the hospital.

Gomez reportedly heard two Spaniards on the phone with their insurance companies in Madrid trying to figure out how and what to pay, and he was pressured strongly to pay his own bill with his credit cards or through his US health insurance policy.

He eventually left without paying the US$4,700 bill, arguing that the US embargo banned him from paying and that in any event the bill should be paid by the state-run restaurant where he contracted the disease.  Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)