Horrific civil rights abuses and HIV prevention in Cuba

Human rights advocates often militate against things like mandatory HIV testing, or government records that link names to HIV test results, because they worry that such practices will lead to abuses of those who are infected with the virus. I was well aware of their concerns, and consider them entirely valid – it’s easy to see how that sort of information could be abused, especially given widespread fear of and stigma toward infected people.

But until stumbling across a reddit thread that mentioned it a few days ago I had no idea that exactly this kind of nightmare scenario had actually happened in Cuba. The Castro government forcibly tested everyone, rounded up the small number who were HIV+, and put them in camps. Even crazier, the JAMA piece I linked to argues that this approach might have actually worked, since testing everyone was feasible and new entry points for the virus were limited.

My personal daily lesson in not taking the depths of man’s inhumanity to man for granted.


About Jason Kerwin

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2 Responses to Horrific civil rights abuses and HIV prevention in Cuba

  1. canadianfriend says:

    Wow, this is a complete misrepresentation of the facts. Have you actually ever been to Cuba?
    Sanitariums are not camps! They’re treatment centres, and very comfortable ones at that.
    Nor did the entire population get tested as you claim. These millions of tests were carried on over a period of years, and involved re-testing of high risk individuals.

    I’m a Canadian missionary who has worked for years in Cuba. I’m so sorry to have to tell you that Americans in general are the most ill-informed people on the planet when it comes to Cuba. The rest of the world just shakes its head at the wild stories and brainwashing propaganda that emanates from American sources sadly. No wonder your government doesn’t permit you to travel to Cuba! Then you would see for yourselves the incredible good of that nation (as well as its deprivation — thanks to the vicious American embargo!)

    Sadly, that the entire American population is held hostage to the hatred emanating from the Cuban-Americans in Florida (led by Fidel Castro’s former in-laws… need I say more?), is incomprehensible to the rest of the world. The land of the brave and the home of the free — and you can’t even travel to your little neighbor in the south? That just doesn’t seem right to me.
    It’s no wonder that the American population is so woefully ignorant of what’s happening in Cuba (arguably the most vibrant culture on the entire planet).

    Hope this vicious and pointless embargo ends soon. Despite its crippling effects on the country and its citizens, the Cuban government has done wonders in caring for its people. Sure, thanks to the embargo they don’t have the material things Americans have, but they do have what counts:
    good health, free education right through university level, free medical care, guaranteed housing, guaranteed food, a society filled with good will and love. The lowest crime rate in the Western Hemisphere — yet incarceration rates are 1/5th of those in the U.S. per capita.

    Add to that freedom of religion (the church is thriving in Cuba), and for me it’s my favourite place in the entire world. Hope you’ll soon get to discover it for yourself!! You’ll be so encouraged.

  2. Lynn H. says:

    For what it is worth, Canadian friend, I would warn agianst this sort of unbridled nastiness towards an entire nation. More than 300 million people live in America and little comes from gouping that many individuals into a single unit.

    I have to say that being a missionary does not exactly qualify you to assess the effectiveness of Cuba’s national health policy nor to decide what is best for those Cubans who are HIV positive. While there have been some academic papers written on the so-called internment of HIV+ individuals in Cuba, there has been, to my knowledge at least, little-to-no research done on the social and psychological implications of this policy or really of the AIDS pandemic in Cuba more generally. I would be interested, for example, to see the results of a hearsay ethnography project in that area (see, for instance: Watkins, Susan. 2004. “Navigating the AIDS epidemic in rural Malawi.” Population and Development Review 30(4): pp. 673-705) as there is little evidence to suggest that people in the developing world have an incentive to tell wazungus anything.

    In any case, take care not to slander entire countries in response to the arguments made by a single citizen. Also, arguing that mandatory HIV testing and forced containment of HIV positive citizens is inhumane is not the same as saying that Cuba is a bad country.

    Finally, do you really think that rounding up and testing ‘high risk individuals’ is better than testing everyone? When I was in elementary school I got lice and so I scratched my head a lot. One day my teacher called me out of class, ran a fine-toothed comb through my hair, and sent me home to be scrubbed clean. I can honestly tell you I would have much preferred to have everyone submitted to this rather humiliating perusal… Now being lice-positive is a far cry from being HIV positive but I imagine that the psychological and social strain associated with being singled out for testing and then quarrantined is excrutiating.

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