Denial of Food and Medicine: The Impact of the U.S. Embargo

An Amnesty International report released earlier in the month recommends an end to the US embargo on Cuba, which it says has imposed severe social and economic hardship on ordinary people on the island. The report (The US Embargo against Cuba: Its Impact on Economic and Social Rights) concludes that the sanctions have endangered the health of millions and denied them access to important medicines and medical technologies.

Amnesty's 28-page findings cite supporting evidence from UN agencies, as well as MEDICC (Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba),and earlier research carried out by the American Association for World Health, which Amnesty called "still the most comprehensive study on the issue" (Denial of Food and Medicine: The Impact of the U.S. Embargo on Health & Nutrition in Cuba).

"The US embargo against Cuba is immoral and should be lifted," said Irene Khan, Amnesty International's Secretary General, calling on US President Barack Obama to "distance himself from the failed policies of the past" by taking immediate steps to begin dismantling its restrictions.

In a CNN interview about the report, MEDICC International Director Gail Reed commented: "...the embargo has a sweeping effect on Cuban healthcare. Over the past decades, I would say the people most affected have been cancer and HIV-AIDS patients." She also said the embargo affects the way Cuban physicians think about the future: "Doctors in Cuba always worry that an international supplier will be bought out by a U.S. company, leaving medical equipment without replacement parts and patients without continuity of medications."

Amnesty found that the embargo also threatens children's health by restricting Cuba's ability to import nutritional products for schools, hospitals and child care centers, contributing to a high prevalence of iron-deficiency anemia. And it notes that children's health was also put at risk by a decision from US suppliers to cancel an order for three million disposable syringes made in 2007 by UNICEF's Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization upon learning the units were destined for Cuba. Similar situations have affected implementation of UN programs to prevent and manage HIV/AIDS on the island.

Finally, the Amnesty report called on the US Congress to repeal US embargo legislation, a necessary step since under current law, the President's powers to ease restrictions are limited.