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Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

Gas vs. Cholera in Havana

January 18, 2013 | Print Print |

Isbel Diaz Torres

Lining up to wash hands at the entrance to the Coppelia ice cream parlor.

HAVANA TIMES — Finally, the authorities have publicly acknowledged that there’s cholera in Havana. Now, if we truly want to protect ourselves, we need gas to boil all the water we consume. It’s that simple.

Even with all the euphemisms imaginable (“acute diarrheic illnesses” or “signs that etiologically lead one to suspect cholera”) the evidence ultimately proved stronger than the desire for control and secrecy so characteristic of Cuban authorities.

The message from the Ministry of Public Health, reported on January 15 in the Granma newspaper, failed to mention among its recommendations that water is the main vehicle for the transmission of cholera. Nor did it explicitly say that water should be boiled before drinking it.

After a delay of more than 10 days, the “Informational Note to the People” announced the existence of the cholera outbreak in the capital, but not even that was done effectively – starting with its title.

To my knowledge, anything published in a newspaper can be called a “note,” and everything in them is “informational” (this is what newspapers are for, to inform). Plus, all of them are directed to “the people” … who else?

I imagine that the desire was not to cause “panic,” which is why they didn´t give the story the headline “Cholera in Havana!”

But what’s truly worrisome is that there were only three health care recommendations:

1. Washing one’s hands

2. Drinking chlorinated water

3. Cleaning and cooking food properly.

How could they omit the vital need to boil water?

Several doctors that I consulted confirmed the insufficiency of chlorinated water in cases of cholera contamination. It’s imperative to boil it, they all said. Even the Administrative Municipal Councils instruct people about the necessity of boiling water, one government official explained to me.

The market at 17th y K Streets with lime spread on the ground.

Of course, for the capital, with availability of manufactured gas by pipeline (“gas from the street”), this isn’t very difficult since people can use all the gas they need, without limit. But for those who receive the liquefied gas (“gas tanks”), this important step can be very expensive.

A household with three or four people receive a balita of gas that lasts for about 19 days. That calculation might seem to be overly precise, but the fact is that gas usually runs out just when families are scheduled to get refills.

If the current epidemic requires consuming more gas for boiling water, these Havana families will have an unpleasant surprise before their scheduled refill date arrives.

That’s why, in my opinion, as long as the Ministry of Public Health´s “anti-cholera plan” remains in effect, in addition to washing our hands with chlorine at the entrance of the Coppelia ice cream parlor, or any bakery, or at the bus station, they should provide extra “balitas” of gas for consumers in the capital.


What's your opinion?

  • Griffin

    Sure, you can wash your hands at the entrance to Coppelia, but how clean was the water was used to wash the equipment used to prepare the ice cream and the dish it is served in?