Cuba: MSF closes its missions on the island

  • International staff: 5

    In late 1999, Médecins Sans Frontières made the difficult decision to discontinue its work in Cuba. Some MSF programs in Cuba were successfully completed and handed over to the the Ministry of Health. But excessive administrative control by Cuban authorities and related problems with local supply channels made it difficult for the organization to continue running other projects independently and effectively, prompting the decision to withdraw. MSF closed its last mission in Cuba in April 2000.

    While on the island, MSF focused on STD/AIDS and on water and sanitation, areas where it was able to bring added value to a health system that already had well-trained medical professionals but lacked financial resources.

    Raising awareness of STD/AIDS

    STD/AIDS prevention programs in Havana and Santiago de Cuba targeted young people and vulnerable groups. MSF carried out awareness campaigns, trained local health workers and encouraged condom use.

    In early 2000, MSF teams and community health workers travelled through Havana and the provincial capitals for an outreach campaign called "Carrito por la vida" (Trailer for Life). Riding in a brightly painted Dutch caravan, teams worked enthusiastically day and night distributing information and condoms to high risk people, raising awareness of HIV/AIDS and STDs and promoting universal precautions. The project was carried out in conjunction with the Ministry of Health.

    Although the STD/AIDS project in Santiago de Cuba was praised by the Minister of Health and its extension to four other provinces requested, the extension proved impossible due to unacceptable conditions posed by the Cuban authorities. The Santiago project is continuing with the Cuban team which had been working with MSF since 1997.

    Improving water quality

    In addition to its STD/AIDS work, MSF carried out several long-term water and sanitation (WATSAN) projects on the island. The organization ran a project aimed at eliminating aedes aegypti mosquito (Dengue fever vector) breeding points in the José Marti district of Santiago de Cuba, a rainwater collection program in Rio Cauto (Granma Province), and a domestic water filter project in Baracoa (Guantanamo Province).

    MSF began work in Cuba in 1993.