Crisis often provides a cover for political accelerationism. It strips away much of the instinctual gravitation of the populace towards the status quo, and often gives political ideologues an opportune chance to put their more radical plans to test. And with a Conservative government once entertaining the prospect of “total market access” of US private entities to the NHS, the legacy of today’s coronavirus panic has the frightening potential to lead the UK down a dark path towards privatisation – that is, unless we as citizens are informed and prepared enough to see through and push back against the incoming rhetoric.
We may soon hear that a publicly controlled and funded healthcare system is too ineffective and inefficient to deal with crisis, and that privatisation is necessary. Perhaps this will be framed as an effort to decentralise and specialise healthcare and medical research, a method to improve these services by injecting them with the added incentive of competition. It will be made to sound as if it is a win-win arrangement.
Instead, I’d like to pose a different narrative, one modelled by a small nation of only 11 million people, with 1/7 of the nominal GDP per capita of the United States. With this fact in mind, it may well seem a bit strange that it is often the Cuban doctors who step in to provide relief to the US’ own territory of Puerto Rico. Because, for all of its faults, Cuba has maintained an extremely efficient and successful healthcare system, far cheaper than the system of the US yet also more accessible: a higher doctor-patient ratio, lower infant mortality rate, and similar life expectancy to the US being some of its crowning achievements.
For two years, a Cuban doctor must be stationed somewhere in need of one, so as to ensure healthcare needs are met for all citizens. Abortions are available to those who wish, but this rate is not abnormally high – as per UN statistics, Cuba’s abortion rate is lower than many Eastern European nations. Some of the most innovative drugs in treating lung cancer (Climavax), skin cancer (Heberferon) and diabetes (C2. Heberprot-P) come from Cuba
On a slightly different note, what makes the Novel Coronavirus deadly is not the disease itself (which kills only 2% of those with the disease, fewer people than the flu kills annually), but its contagiousness, whilst we seemingly do not have a definitive cure. Difficult to prevent its spreading, COVID-19 is frightening more in how it affects those with compromised immune systems, and has the potential to overwhelm health systems due to mass simultaneous infection.
This is why a Cuban-manufactured drug, Recombinant Interferon alpha-2B, has been so effective at treating the disease in China. Alongside a thorough and effective quarantine, this Interferon B has been used to strengthen the immune systems of the vulnerable people who had already caught the virus, and has reportedly cured over 1,500 Chinese coronavirus patients so far. The Cuban Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) have confirmed that large amounts of Interferon B could be exported all over the world to help satisfy demand for treatment, despite being legally Cuban intellectual property. More recently, it has been dispatched to Italy, along with a group of doctors.
The fact that a Cuban medicine is amongst the 30 drugs chosen by the Chinese health system to combat the pandemic, whilst Cuba is not even in the top 60 world economies shows in itself many of the merits of a socialised medical system. Because research in Cuba is not directed by profit, as it would be under a capitalist economy, researchers have the freedom to embark on dynamic long-term projects that do not produce immediate profit, without the fear of losing funding. Within the country, competing researchers do not block medical developments with patents, or competitive division of the workforce.
A fully socialised system is one that is built to deal with crisis. Not only is Cuba equipped to deal with its own coronavirus patients, it has also been found to be the most sustainably developed country in the world on the Sustainable Development Index. Whilst blockaded by the West, Cuba has emerged as one of the most self-sufficient nations on the planet, not only in theoretical terms, but also in providing its people with healthcare, education, and a decent standard of living.
Of course, the Cuban system is by no means perfect, requiring further democratisation and a more viable path to communism, but as the UK considers its own economic path, it exemplifies a clear alternative to this current government’s neoliberal objectives. Private ownership of services and industries, i.e. capitalism, instead creates crisis. From the global climate emergency to the opioid or obesity epidemics in the USA, profiteering corporations have systematically manufactured dangerous crises for their own gain, undemocratically antithetical to our collective sustainability and welfare.
Nationalisation, socialisation, democratisation, internationalisation, communalisation. We need more of these put into action, not less.
Image: Chris Beckett via Flickr