At the 29th Havana International Fair, Cuban health researchers showed off a number of new cancer treatments. One of them, a therapeutic vaccine designed to treat tumors in lung cancer patients, is being heralded as a major breakthrough. Although the vaccine doesn’t cure cancer, it creates antibodies that make the disease manageable and provides hope for patients who were not showing any improvement from treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
According to the New Internationalist, the vaccine has been tested and rolled out in Cuba.
The vaccine has already been tested on 1,000 patients in Cuba and is being distributed at hospitals there free of charge. That’s a big deal for a country where smoking is part of the national culture and a leading cause of death. If it proves as successful as researchers say it is, it should give those suffering from lung cancer reason to celebrate – just not with a Cohiba.
That is good news, for now, for Cubans suffering from lung cancer. But some observers are asking what might happen if Big Pharma tries to get its hands on the vaccine. On the New Internationalist blog, Iris Gonzales wrote:
What I would like to see, though, is for giant pharmaceutical companies to leave the vaccine in the hands of Cuba and not to buy and patent it like it’s theirs – which would raise the cost of the vaccine and dash hopes for many patients.
I just wonder how Cuba can bring this out into the world, beyond its borders, without the giant pharmaceutical companies scrambling to patent or distribute it? If there is a way that Cuba can have its own distribution system so that the rest of the world can benefit from it, that would be great.
These giant pharmaceutical firms, after all, prioritize profits above healthcare.
In the meantime, will this new vaccine create more medical tourism to Cuba?
Globally, medical tourism is a big business.While it is difficult for Americans to travel to Cuba, millions of Canadians, Brits, Germans, Mexicans and South Americans head to Cuba on vacation each year. Care2 recently reported on Canadians taking advantage of the weak American economy to seek out treatment in the United States.
However, most medical tourists from Canada, the United States and other developed countries flock to developing countries where they can combine a vacation with bargain prices on elective surgery. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez recently traveled to Cuba for cancer treatment. Perhaps some of the tens of thousands of Canadians diagnosed with lung cancer each year will soon be booking trips to Havana.
Photo credit: Annie Urban