That Cuba has already developed four vaccines or inoculations against different types of cancer is without doubt important news for humanity. The World Health Organisation says each year about 8 million people die from this illness.
However, the international mainstream media have almost totally ignored this news.
Last year, Cuba patented the first therapeutic vaccine against advanced lung cancer in the world, called CIMAVAX-EGF. In January, the second one, called Racotumomab, was announced.
Clinical testing in 86 countries shows that these vaccines, although they don’t cure the illness, do managed to reduce tumours and allow for a stable stage of the illness, thereby increasing hope and quality of life.
The Molecular Immunology Centre of Havana, a Cuban state organisation, is the creator of all these vaccines.
In 1985 it developed the vaccine for meningitis B, the only one in the world, and later others that fight hepatitis B and dengue. For years, the centre has been conducting research to develop vaccines against AIDS-HIV.
The other Cuban state-run centre, Laboratories LABIOFAM, has developed homeopathic medicine for cancer such as VIDATOX, created from the blue scorpion’s venom. Cuba exports these medicines to 26 countries, and takes part in joint companies with China, Canada, and Spain.
All of this goes against the well-enforced stereotype, reinforced by the media silence regarding advances achieved by Cuba and other global south (so-called Third World) countries, that vanguard medical research takes place only in so-called developed countries.
Undoubtedly, the Cuban state obtains an economic benefit from the international sale of these pharmaceutical products. However, its philosophy of investigation and commercialisation is diametrically opposed to the business practices of the large pharmaceutical industry.
Nobel Prize for Medicine winner Richard J Roberts recently denounced the pharmaceutical industry for orienting its research not to curing illnesses, but to developing medicine for chronic ailments, which is much more economically profitable.
Roberts suggested the illnesses that are particular to poorer countries, because of their low profitability, simply are not researched. That is why 90% of the budget for research is aimed at illnesses suffered by 10% of the world’s population.
Cuba’s public medicine industry, even though it is one of the main sources of foreign currency for the country, is guided by radically different principles.
In the first place, its research is aimed at, in a large part, developing vaccines that prevent illnesses and as a consequence, reduce the population’s spending on medicine.
In an article in the prestigious magazine Science, researchers from Stanford University (California), Paul Drain and Michele Barry, said Cuba has better health indicators than the United States, despite spending up to 20 times less on the sector.
The reason for this is the absence, in the Cuban model, of commercial pressures and encouragement by pharmaceutical companies, and a successful strategy of educating the population about preventative healthcare.
Furthermore, traditional and natural therapies, such as herbal medicine, acupuncture, hypnosis and many others — practices that are not very profitable for the makers of medicine — have been integrated into the free public health system of the island for years.
Also, in Cuba, medicine is distributed via the national public hospital network as something that is either free or highly subsidised, thanks to the income from exporting it.
The Cuban medicine industry also barely assigns any of its budget to publicity. In the case of the multinationals, publicity spending is higher than what they invest in actual research.
Finally, Cuba promotes the production of generic medicine. These are made available in other poor countries and to the World Health Organisation at much lower prices than those offered by the global medicine industry.
But these measures, removed from market rules, generate a lot of pressure from the pharmaceutical industry.
Recently, the Ecuadorian government announced it would buy a large number of medicines from Cuba in exchange for scholarships for Ecuadorian students to study in Cuba and for the support provided by Cuban specialists.
Protests against the move by the Ecuadorian Association of Pharmaceutical Laboratories were immediately converted into a media campaign, spreading the message of the supposed bad quality of Cuban medicine.
On the other hand, many analysts see the international pharmaceutical industry as being behind the coup in Honduras in 2009. The elected government of Manuel Zelaya, in the framework of agreements made within the Cuba- and Venezuela-founded Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our Americas to which Honduras then belonged, aimed to substitute Cuban generic medicine for imports from multinationals.
The US blockade against Cuba imposes big obstacles to the international commercialisation of Cuban pharmaceutical products, but it is also directly detrimental to US citizens. For example, each year the 80,000 diabetics in the US who suffer the amputation of their toes don’t have access to the Cuban vaccine Heperprot P, which would prevent such amputations.
The Chemistry Nobel Prize winner Peter Agre recently said: “Cuba is a magnificent example of how scientific knowledge and research can be integrated.”
Irina Bokova, general director of UNESCO, said she was impressed by Cuba’s scientific achievements and her organisation is willing to promote them to the rest of the world.
The inevitable question is, will she count on the essential collaboration of the international mainstream media to spread this information?
This article was written by Jo MacLean and translated for Green Left Weekly by Tamara Pearson