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      Lifting the U.S. Blockade Will Benefit Both Peoples

      By Manuel Yepe*

      “Want to Improve the Health of Millions of Americans? Lift the Embargo on Cuba” is the title of an article written by Peter Bourne and published in the Observer Chronicle on August 8. Forty years ago, under President Jimmy Carter –when he partially lifted the travel to Cuba ban imposed on US citizens– Peter Bourne was appointed Special Assistant to the President for Health Issues.

      “By reopening embassies, removing Cuba from the “terror list” and making it a bit easier for Americans to travel there, President Barack Obama’s White House has taken initial steps to put an end to a policy that has adversely affected the health of the American people for over half a century. The Senate Appropriations Committee’s action last week to even further ease restrictions on travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens and relax some provisions of the economic embargo, is welcome for a variety of reasons, but perhaps most urgently for the health of citizens in both countries.”

      Bourne says it became very clear to him that no element of the two societies would benefit more from the free exchange of ideas than the health of the two peoples.

      He adds that the announcement earlier this month that Cuba has become the first country in the world to end mother-to- child transmission of HIV and syphilis is but one example of developments on the island of potential benefit to Americans. “With the door cracked open through diplomatic relations, we now glimpse the possibilities for joint learning, research and development leading to effective health strategies and new treatments.”

      “As a result of our long isolation from Cuba, most Americans are unaware that researchers in Cuba have developed many effective treatments at the country’s Molecular Immunology Institute. These are innovations that not only prolong life, but also improve the quality of life for patients with lung and other types of cancer. And they have proven effective with pediatric patients in clinical trials. One such treatment –CimaVax, the potential lung cancer vaccine– has recently received extensive media attention for its innovation, but less so for the enormous obstacles that continue to stand in the way of the benefits it offers for US lung cancer patients.”

      Bourne explains that Cuba already has considerable experience in prevention and treatment of dengue, a brutally painful and sometimes fatal mosquito-borne disease which is endemic in most of the Caribbean basin, including Puerto Rico, and which has now moved into the Florida Keys, Texas and as far north as San Francisco, California. Cuba is home to the world’s only World Health Organization [WHO] Collaborating Center in Dengue and is also managing the world’s most advanced phase clinical trials for a vaccine against this disease.

      The US scientist believes that Cuba’s most dramatic breakthrough, however, may be a medication called Heberprot-P, which has already treated more than 165,000 diabetic- foot ulcer patients in 26 countries, reducing the risk of amputation by 75 percent. Bourne regrets that, unfortunately Heberprot-P, is not available in the United States, where diabetes affects more than 29 million people, almost ten percent of the population. American diabetics, who suffer 85,000 limb amputations annually, don’t benefit from this limb –and life– saving treatment developed by Cubans.

      “We are now in a moment when decisive action in Washington could move from the symbolic to the practical – and improve the health of millions of Americans in the process,” says Bourne.

      “The ball is now in Congress’ court. The House should follow the Senate Appropriations Committee’s lead and beyond that, vote to lift the economic embargo on Cuba. Our peoples will be healthier for it,” stresses Bourne.

      Under certain modifications introduced by the US executive branch on the provisions of the “embargo” after the agreements between the Presidents of the United States and Cuba, US citizens may be allowed to travel to Cuba more liberally by Washington if they have a scientific, religious or sporting purpose, among others. However, they are prohibited by the US blockade –in place for more than half a century– to practice tourism activities in the island (excursions, visits to beaches, entertainment) and all forms of investment or trade with Cuban entities.


      *Manuel E. Yepe, is a lawyer, economist and journalist. He is a professor at the Higher Institute of International Relations in Havana. He was Cuba’s ambassador to Romania, general director of the Prensa Latina agency; vice president of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television; founder and national director of the Technological Information System (TIPS) of the United Nations Program for Development in Cuba, and secretary of the Cuban Movement for the Peace and Sovereignty of the Peoples.

      A CubaNews translation. Edited by Walter Lippmann.

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