Zika, cancer focus of new U.S., Cuba accord on public health
Accord is the 8th between the two countries since relations
reestablished. Topics include battling Zika-carrying mosquitoes, winning
FDA approval for Cuban cancer drug.
BY FRANCO ORDOÑEZ
Cuba and the United States signed a public health agreement Monday
promising to work together in the fight against Zika and cancer.
Cuban Health Minister Roberto Tomas Morales Ojeda signed the agreement
at the start of a three-day visit to the United States.
Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are the primary conveyors of the Zika virus. A
new public health agreement with Cuba foresees the U.S. and the island
nation exchanging information on fighting the virus. Felipe Dana AP
Ambassador Jimmy Kolker, an assistant secretary at the U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services, said the memorandum of understanding
allows the United States to tap into Cuba’s critical expertise combating
tropical viruses spread by the aedes aegypti mosquito.
“There is an epidemiological value in communicating with Cuba,” Kolker
said. “Zika has focused people’s minds on the close relationship we have
because of geographic proximity and the possible impact of climate
change in which some diseases that were just known in tropical areas are
spreading to the continental United States.”
Cuba was one of the last countries in the hemisphere to detect cases of
Zika, a mosquito-borne virus that is believed responsible for birth
defects and other complications.
The Cuban government has conducted an aggressive anti-Zika campaign,
sending thousands of military personnel and police door-to-door to
fumigate for mosquitoes, dispatching doctors to airports and cruise ship
terminals to monitor travelers for Zika symptoms, and using state-run
television to advise citizens on how to protect themselves against the
The memorandum of understanding also calls for coordination in a number
of other public health areas, including global health security,
communicable and non-communicable diseases, research development and
Kolker said the agreement could also help bring a Cuban-developed
vaccine against lung cancer to the United States.
Kolker said the prospects for the vaccine have intrigued U.S. medical
researchers, who are eager to help the drug go through the lengthy Food
and Drug Administration approval process. Under the memorandum of
understanding, U.S. officials will help the Cubans better understand the
approval process and assemble the evidence needed to gain FDA approval.
Researchers at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y.,
already are working with Cuban researchers on a clinical trial for the
vaccine in the United States. The trials could begin this summer, White
House officials have said.
Cancer is the leading cause of death in Cuba and second-leading cause in
the United States.
The memorandum of understanding was the eighth accord signed between the
two countries since Dec. 17, 2014, when President Barack Obama and Cuban
leader Raúl Castro announced steps to end more than a half-century of
hostility. The other agreements tackle environmental challenges, allow
direct mail and the coordination of security data.
Cuban officials declined a request for an interview on the public health
agreement, but state media reported Morales would be joined by members
of Cuba’s biopharmacy industry, and directors of leading Cuban research
institutes and drug control centers for the three-day visit.
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