HAVANA, Jan. 18th Shortage of condoms in pharmacies and health centers is taking a heavy toll on Cuban families with a rise in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), as well as unwanted pregnancies and abortions, said Dr. Deglis Luciano, head of the Program of STDs in the province of Guantanamo.
The official explained to the provincial newspaper Venceremos that, between January and October 2022, there was also an increase in cases of vaginal discharge syndrome, a disease that causes burning, stench, irritation and discomfort when patients urinate. There was also an increase in syphilis and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infections.
Health reports indicate that in 2022 the highest number of abortions in the last two years was recorded, although the number performed is not specified. The doctor also recognized that unofficial abortions are not counted and carried out by the health system, but with no records kept, in which the risk of sterility increases and they can also cause the death of the woman.
The Venceremos note, titled Between Precautions and Deceptions, acknowledges that “in recent months” there has been a marked deficiency in the availability of contraceptive methods on the Island, such as condoms, pills and injections, the most popular and affordable for family planning for women. This “reduces or precludes sexually active people from having relationships responsibly,” she added.
The same newspaper quotes a young Cuban woman, Melissa, who reports that her most urgent concern is to get the birth control pills, rather than “carry on with the calendar in hand” to keep track of ovulation.
“That there is talk of dealing with STDs with condoms, and that there is no way to buy them at a reasonable price, I am amused, although it is not funny. How much more time will it take for the problem to be resolved,” questioned the woman.
The condom shortage is not a recent issue in Cuba, but it worsened with the covid-19 pandemic. A publication in this newspaper in 2020 found that pharmacies did not have the product in their inventories, considered one of the most efficient because it is a barrier to the spread of diseases and unwanted pregnancies.
The only places where they could be found, and with a limited supply, were in stores that accept payment only in CUC (the USD equivalent that no longer exists), but at a prohibitive price for Cubans.
In the note, the official newspaper of Guantanamo acknowledges that the virtual candonga [private market] takes center stage in the absence of a formal and orderly market to control the sale. Numerous groups on social networks offer contraceptive products, some through the popular Revolico classifieds site, which “become almost the only option” for Cuban families.
A recent survey of high school students revealed that young Cubans consider it very difficult to acquire contraceptive methods, especially due to the high prices in hard currency stores or in the informal market.
In the black market networks, a condom can be worth 50 pesos and birth control pills are fixed at the cost that “the seller wants,” said those consulted in the study, for whom there is no choice but to “adjust with them.”
The shortage of condoms has led the health authorities of Santiago de Cuba to begin distributing the prophylaxis drug (PrEP) last September, capable of preventing the spread of the virus that causes AIDS.
The doctor Manuel Felipe Moreno Soto told the newspaper Sierra Maestra that few people go for this treatment, although the plans are to open more consultations in four municipalities of Havana and also in the capital of Santiago due to the high incidence of HIV.
“PrEP is an additional preventive method for people who do not have HIV, but who have a higher risk of becoming infected due to biological characteristics and the conditions in which they carry out their sexual life, marked by stigma and discrimination,” said the doctor, who insisted that the drug has been shown to cut transmission and decrease the incidence of the virus.
This drug was introduced in Cuba in 2019 under the auspices of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and other United Nations agencies, and the first tests were carried out in the municipalities of Matanzas and Cárdenas.
Among the products that Cuban emigrants who visit the Island bring in their suitcases, there is an increasing presence of contraceptive methods. In social networks, money collections are frequently to bring luggage loaded with medicines to the country and, among them, the necessary condoms have gained prominence to the extent that they are absent from national pharmacies.
The morning-after pill and intrauterine devices also often arrive in the country with travelers who import them for their families or for resale on the black market. A single one of these pills to stop pregnancy costs between 700 and 900 Cuban pesos in the informal trade.