More than a dozen doctors from multiple hospitals in eastern Cuba appeared in a video posted over the weekend defending themselves against government criticism over COVID care and placing the blame on the Communist regime's lack of medicine and supplies, The Miami Herald reported.
The video is a rare criticism of communist leadership, but comes as Cuba's health minister acknowledged an oxygen shortage in the country as COVID-19 cases surge.
Specialists, residents and interns from multiple hospitals in Holguin appear in the video including Dr. Alejandro Eduardo Forés Arafet, head of intensive care at General Hospital Vladimir Ilich Lenin.
"I want to denounce the collapse of our health system in our hospital and many others," said Dr. Héctor Alejandro Santiesteban Fuentes, who is a second-year surgery resident at General Hospital Vladimir Ilich Lenin. "It is not a lie. No one is paying us. It is the reality we are living today."
Dr. Yuliet Consuegra Leyva, a third-year surgery resident there, says in the video that health personnel are "mistreated, every day, by the upper echelons, the authorities. Actually, we are the ones sustaining this country."
Comments by Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz that the public is complaining more about health care workers for "mistreatment" and "neglect" of COVID patients than they are about medicine shortages angered the doctors.
"I publicly denounce that doctors are not to blame for the collapse of the health system in our country," every doctor said in the video. Other Cuban doctors have made similar statements on social media, the Herald reported.
Such public statements in communist regimes can bring reprisals, and Rafael Alejandro Fuentes Sanchez, a general surgeon, admitted that was a possibility, though he said the group's concerns are larger.
"We are afraid, but we are not afraid of the pandemic; we are afraid of the government, of what it can do, and of the way it can react to the fact that we are speaking out to demand our rights and the rights of the people to have quality care," he said.
The Cuban government admitted on Sunday that it has an oxygen shortage as it struggles to treat the coronavirus, which has devastated the island.
The government announced on Sunday that the main oxygen plant had broken down in the midst of a delta variant-driven coronavirus surge that has resulted in record numbers of cases and deaths, swamping some provincial health systems.
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel toured a military unit producing and transporting sparse oxygen to COVID-19 patients, state-run media reported on Tuesday.
Diaz-Canel was seen on television inspecting three mobile military plants, including a recently donated Russian one, that produce oxygen and talking to military helicopter pilots ferrying the product to hospitals in various western and central provinces, presumably in the nick of time to save patients gasping for air.
Last week similar scenes from eastern Cuba were broadcast, featuring smaller oxygen-producing equipment on military trucks and the filled oxygen tanks transported by various types of vehicles to hospitals, but without the president.
Cuba reported 9,800 cases and 68 deaths on Monday.
Over the last 15 days there have been an average of 8,891 cases per days and 82 deaths.
As of Monday Cuba had reported a total of 536,609 cases and 4,023 deaths since the pandemic began.
The Cuban leader, who is also head of the Communist Party, was accompanied on Monday by the head of the armed forces, Alvaro Lopez Miera, who was recently sanctioned by the United States for what it charged was his role in putting down protests more than a month ago in the country.
The health crisis, on top of economic woes, has resulted in a scarcity of consumer goods and frayed nerves in the Communist-run country. On July 11 tens of thousands took to the streets in protest, the most serious unrest since the early days of the 1959 Revolution.
As the country struggles to cope with the surge it is also engaged in a campaign to inoculate the entire 11.2 million population with two locally produced vaccines, Abdala and Soberana 2, which it claims have efficacy rates above 90%.
The country has fully vaccinated more than 3.2 million residents with another 2 million expected to get a final shot before September and more than 95% of the entire country before the end of the year.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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