Saturday, October 07, 2006

Dengue Fever in Cuba

Dengue Fever is something like the flu, but worse. Worldwide it is a tropical disease but cases are reported in the US.
Despite official silence, reports are coming out of Cuba that an epidemic of dengue fever may well be occurring there.
A couple of YouTube videos are linked at Global Voices Online.

Marc Masferrer is a professional journalist blogging from the Tampa area. His post from a week ago makes an interesting read.

The exact nature of Fidel Castro's illness has been guarded by the Cuban government as a "state secret."

Similarly, a veil of secrecy, and perhaps deceit, has been cast on a much more serious health problem for Cuba: An apparent epidemic of dengue.

"Apparent" is the only way to describe it, since the Cuban government — as is typical of a dictatorship that uses controls on information to repress its people — has not been forthcoming with details about the current crisis. Everyone in Havana and other cities has seen the clouds of insecticides used to attack the disease-carrying mosquitos that spread dengue, and heard exhortations from temporary dictator Raúl Castro and other government officials about the importance of stamping out the epidemic.But there has been no information released by the government detailing how widespread the epidemic really is.

Reports from overseas, as well as the domestic independent press, have cited a wide range of figures — anywhere from 4,000 to 35,000 people infected, and anywhere from 40 to 700 dead. (On a per capita basis, that would be the equivalent of as many as 955,000 Americans infected, with as many as 19,000 dead.)

Instead of releasing details about the size of the epidemic, the regime has resorted to what dictatorships do best: Repression. Coincidentally, but probably not, at least two independent journalists, Odelin Alfonso and Abel Escobar who had reported about the epidemic have recently been detained and threatened by the police.

And now, according to a new story written by Escobar — Cuba’s independent journalists are some of the bravest scribes in the world — and distributed by CubaNet, health workers describe how they have been warned not to release information about the dengue epidemic.

As I read this story I cannot help but imagine how dangerous official policies are in the event of an outbreak of avian flu in this hemisphere. I'm not sure which is worse, Cuban or US policy. There may be more forthcoming "worst-case" policies, but at the moment neither strikes me as anything but counterproductive in case of a pandemic.

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