Cubans Turn to Natural Remedies in Midst of Prescription Drugs Shortage

January 12, 2022

The World Health Organization noted in a 2019 report on “Traditional and Complementary Medicine” that Cuba has had a national health plan for integrating natural and traditional medicine into its health service delivery system since 1995 and also has a national research office in Havana to study natural medicines.

Cuba first began encouraging the use of medicinal plants and alternative medicine during the economic crisis known as the Special Period, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of its generous subsidies. The government continued to support green alternatives, manufacturing plant-based medicines in special laboratories and distributing natural medicines through its network of pharmacies.

In the province of Las Tunas, for example, farmers grow plantains, passionflower, mint, guava, lemons, oregano, and other herbs to supply five laboratories with more than 35,000 kilos of plant material annually that are transformed into extracts, syrups, drops, creams, and tinctures, according to Granma, Cuba’s Communist Party publication. These products are often more readily available in state-owned pharmacies than prescription drugs.

State-licensed doctors regularly offer patients alternative treatments, and family doctors and nurses who are assigned to specific neighborhoods are encouraged to plant herb gardens near their offices.

When Maura Pérez Recio, 53, was studying medicine from 1986 to 1992, natural medicines and alternative treatments weren’t part of the curriculum. Now, Pérez, who works at Cuba’s National Institute of Endocrinology, in Havana, is accredited for acupuncture and herbal medicine treatments and includes them as part of her therapeutic arsenal. She says she might prescribe various forms of garlic and onions to lower lipid levels, moringa and basil preparations as hypoglycemic agents for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, and linden and passionflower as sedatives.

During the pandemic, she says, a national campaign has promoted the use of PrevengHo-Vir, a homeopathic medicine thought to boost the immune system, and Cuban doctors have been prescribing plants, such as turmeric, that have antiviral properties and stimulate the immune system.

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