News and Facts about Cuba

Manual For How To Buy Drugs At A Neighborhood Pharmacy

Manual For How To Buy Drugs At A Neighborhood Pharmacy / 14ymedio,
Regina Coyula

14ymedio, Regina Coyula, 28 June 2016 – Unless it’s for a purchase of
contraceptives, the pharmacy generally comes through when someone nearby
is ill or is being treated for a chronic illness. The pharmacies
themselves do not raise one’s spirits. Many are poorly lit or poorly
ventilated or in need of paint or all of the above. The workers’
initiative is “embellished” with decorative garlands of various kinds
and informative murals with indecipherable writing. The medications are
arranged according to use, with each group in a little cardboard box in
which the inventory is carried.

If you decide to put together a home first aid kid, be patient and visit
the pharmacy assiduously to gather the basics. For the most part,
medications are subsidized by the state. This does not prevent an aging
couple with chronic conditions (don’t forget the aging of the Cuban
population) from spending on medications the full retirement pension of
at least one of them.

There are medications that do not require a prescription, among which
are the “artisanal” and “green” medications for a cough or such like,
but they are not always there when you need them. Others are dispensed
by prescription and controlled by the “Tarjetón” – your ration card for

The Tarjetón is a piece of cardboard that each patient receives, where
medications and other supplements whose monthly sales are
regulated are recorded. The doctor gives you a certificate valid for one
year, stamped with her seal with her name and both surnames and her
practice registration number. Despite these unique data for each
physician, there is still one unavoidable step missing, the seal of the
healthcare institution. After standing in line (there is almost always a
line), the “stamp issuer,” who is not a doctors nor has a list, nor
writes on a computer, nor makes notes on paper, stamps the seal and
continues to the next. With this paper, in the pharmacy nearest to your
home among the 2,141 in the country, you get in line, deliver the
certificate, show your identity card, register, and receive the Tarjetón.

Despite such rigor, it may be at the time of purchase, that the
medications have run out, have arrived incomplete, or are “missing.” For
insulin-dependent diabetics the Tarjetón controls disposable syringes.
It says right on the packaging “sterile insulin syringe for single use,”
but the patient only receives between two and five syringes a month. If
you complain, the clerk peevishly tells you that this disposable “isn’t
really” and you can reuse it and even boil it and nothing will happen.

When the medication on your Tarjetón is “missing,” which is not uncommon
(data in the press from last year shows that this is the case, on
average, for 40 medications a week), you have to see a doctor for a
substitute. If the medication only needs a prescription it is simpler;
if it needs the Tarjetón the process starts again, even if it’s a
temporary certificate.

But there are items that have no substitute, such as colostomy bags. In
that case, the pharmacy employee shakes his head sorrowfully, and
advises you to solve the problem immediately by talking with the doctor
at your , but to look for a safe way, while accompanying the
counsel with a wave of the hand in the air which alludes to very far
distances, because the supply of the bags is usually very unstable.

Regardless if the difficulties are their own or others, if they have it
or not, the purchase cannot be made retroactively and experience
dictates that one should not leave it to the last days of the month
because things run out. This largely explains the existence of an active
black market.

To locate a drug that is not in your pharmacy assures hatred of the
line. The employee is obliged to locate it, and the phone used for this
is delayed because it is busy on the other end, or they don’t answer, or
they don’t have it either. If the search is crowned with success, they
will give you a paper (yes, it’s the Tarjetón), which reserves the
medication for you, but not for 8 hours, nor for 16 or 24 hours, but
only up to midnight of the same day.

If a lifelong treatment combines medications on the Tarjetón with other
prescriptions, the patient is required to regularly go to their
neighborhood doctor to wait for the prescription that completes their
treatment. The staff shrug their shoulders and raise their eyebrows when
asked why these drugs are not included on the Tarjetón.

I have left for dessert the issue of the sanitary pads received by women
between ages 14 and 55. Outside this range women must document early
menarche or late menopause. Fertile women must bring, in addition to
their ID card, the ration book for where their receipt of these
items is marked; the book will show an item called a “torpedo,” a form
that registers the monthly packet of ten sanitary pads, responsible for
one of the most painful events that must be coped with.

Do not despair. There is always the appeal in extremis to spending Cuban
convertible pesos [known as CUCs, each one worth about a dollar or
one-twentieth of the average monthly wage] in clean, bright and
air-conditioned hard currency-pharmacies, where there is no queuing or
prescription required.

Source: Manual For How To Buy Drugs At A Neighborhood Pharmacy /
14ymedio, Regina Coyula – Translating Cuba –

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