FBIS-LAT-93-212 Daily Report 4 Nov 1993 CARIBBEAN Cuba

Castro Addresses Microbiology Congress PA0411043193 Havana Radio Rebelde Network Spanish 2320 GMT 30 Oct 93 PA0411043193 Havana Radio Rebelde Network Spanish 2320 GMT 30 Oct 93 BFN [Speech by Fidel Castro at the Fourth Microbiology and Parasitology Congress held at the Convention Palace in Havana on 29 October -- recorded] [Text] A program had been previously scheduled in which [words indistinct] were to give a speech. I knew that [words indistinct] was to speak and that [words indistinct] had many things to say. He had many things to say but in a few words. It had been announced that Dr. Carlyle -- I call him Carlyle, because that is how we pronounce it in Spanish [Castro chuckles] -- was going to give a conference. How long was the conference to last? Well, approximately 40 minutes. When we arrived here, we learned that Carlyle had [word indistinct] (?sore throat). Before it was called [words indistinct] but now it is called [words indistinct] because nothing can be heard [Castro chuckles] [words indistinct]. It appears that in honor of the inauguration of this Institution, he was received here at least with a cold. It has not been investigated yet if he has a virus or a bacteria. The fact of the matter is that he could barely speak. I do not know how he managed, because he gave his speech and he spoke very well and with a great deal of sensibility which merits double congratulations. At the end he said that [name indistinct] was to give a speech. I was told that the last time [name indistinct] had given a speech was at a graduation ceremony, and they said it was long. This time he was brief and he spoke eloquently, there was even time left. We have not been here for an hour yet. It was then my turn to [word indistinct] come up to the podium. A sort of conditional reflex has been created. This has nothing to do with parasitology or with microbiology, nor with tropical medicine. It has to do with studies recently carried out by a Russian scientist -- Russian, Soviet, I do not know what he is now. I am not well informed of his nationality nor where he was born. I do not know if he was born in Belarus, in the Ukraine, or in [word indistinct]; before he was a Soviet citizen. Now he is Russian, is that right? I think he studied the aspect of conditional reflexes. Well, the truth is that I am the one that has the reflexes here, it is not the public. Rather, one can say that I provoke reflexes. When they see me [words indistinct] as if it is mandatory, they demand that I be present. [Words indistinct] what happened to Carlyle. Carlyle had no voice but he had a speech prepared. I can speak but I have no speech prepared. [Castro shuffles papers] I came here to greet you all, in the first place, and to express my satisfaction for your presence. There is a large attendance of doctors, Cuban experts. There is also a very large attendance -- number not yet estimated -- of experts from abroad. I say from abroad so as to not call them foreign because in the end we all belong to the same family. There is nothing strange or foreign among those who are visiting us here. [applause] I have not had the opportunity to participate in the debates, the workshops, the seminars -- who knows how many things have been going on. I had even mentioned that the closing ceremony was to be held over there [at the Institute]. I mentioned to my dear comrades that it would probably will be held over there as this deals with tropical medicine. But when we were on the way they turned and I asked: Where are you going? They replied, the closing ceremony is at the Convention Palace. Nevertheless, I did hear that the Congress went very well. That everyone -- the Cubans as well as the foreigners -- had a good concept of the Congress' development. Carlyle talked about the conditions under which this Congress was held, the conditions under which we organized this institution, [words indistinct] very difficult conditions. It is truly encouraging [words indistinct] for us to hold a congress of this quality under these circumstances. Our Tropical Medicine Institute has already received certain international recognition. I say certain international recognition because I do not wish to wound the modesty of the workers at the institute. Perhaps it is more than certain international recognition; perhaps it is great international recognition. At least our area, the area of Latin America, has given the institute this recognition. We must say that the founder of the institute, the man who conceived this necessary and important idea for our country was Pedro Curie, Gustavo's father. The fact that Gustavo is the one who currently heads the institute is quite symbolic; and he is doing a splendid job. A few minutes ago he told me that present here today is a Guatemalan professor he met when he was a child and that he had worked with his father. It was Curie who had the idea and who put the idea into practice. He did this with no funding whatsoever. He did it virtually on his won. He created the institute and got much of the material that was needed. He succeeded in giving the institute prestige and having tropical medicine taught at the university. You have presented us with a diploma in recognition of our work and support for this task. All I did was get information about the institute and the work that Pedro Curie and a group of scientists had done. I became aware of the importance of tropical medicine in a country such as ours, not only because we are a tropical country, with all the virtues and shortcomings of a tropical country -- because heat can create problems, can it not (Nerey) [not further identified]. Heat can be a problem especially for the construction workers because they, as well as the farmers, must work in very harsh weather. This is why I say that the European farmer works in air conditioned weather. Here we must work in 35 and sometimes 40 degree weather and relative humidity of more than 80 percent. Slavery originated in the tropics. The Europeans could not work in our climate and that is why they enslaved the Indians. In many places they exterminated the Indians. Then they went to Africa. They brought millions of Africans here to grow sugar cane, coffee, and other agricultural products. In other words, these people work in a harsh climate and this harsh climate has diseases that do not exist in mild and cold climates. Difficulties for development in tropical climate countries abound and not only in the field of health; however, there are many tropical diseases. If you want to be healthy in the tropics, then you must work hard in every field of health, in particular the field of tropical medicine. The huge number of diseases, parasites, [word indistinct], and other similar problems that do not exist in mild and cold climates. Even back in those days Cuba's international cooperation was being developed. Our island was blocked and isolated. Not only because of feelings, but also out of need, we were forced to develop strong relations with the rest of the world. We cooperated with African countries and other tropical countries. Students came and went. There came a time when we had 25,000 students on scholarship. Almost all the tropical countries were represented. It was a matter of concern the fact that diseases that did not exist here could be transmitted from other continents. The Institute of Tropical Medicine -- that we could say was revived -- was located temporarily in a number of houses, until adequate installations were prepared. The Institute was requested to carry out an extensive project in order to protect the nation from illnesses from other continents or other nations. That project was very important. The project consisted of finding out what these diseases were, what produced them, in addition to how they were transmitted, how they were transmitted [repeats himself]. Almost all these diseases, all of them have some form of transmission. At times it is the mosquito, at times it is the fly, at times it is a snail, or an [word indistinct] insect. We had to investigate whether the transmitting agents of those diseases were in our countries. We also had to investigate how these diseases were to be combated. That is, to protect the nation's public health there must be an exchange. This type of exchange of information takes place in all parts of the world. Ever since aviation was developed, in a matter of hours any traveler can travel to any country from any [word indistinct]. Communication has been multiplied among the diverse areas in the world. Therefore, we saw this as a necessity given our extremely broad relations with the rest of the world. It is also a need for the [words indistinct] of the world to [words indistinct]. The study of diseases unique to each climate is very important and highly interesting for all the nations. There are some diseases that are not exclusive to the tropics; they are of tropical, cold, and mild climates. AIDS was mentioned here, it affects all the nations of the world. It is still not know for certain, nor precisely, what the origins of AIDS is. There are diverse theories with regard to this, but its origin is still unknown. I have even had the opportunity to learn of some opinions linking it to biological warfare efforts. This cannot be asserted either. It is just one of the many theories that abound. However, it is well known that biological warfare was the object of in-depth research and that billions [currency not specified] were spent on it. It would not be surprising for an epidemic such as this to have originated from one of the many laboratories. As a result of this, it was our responsibility to develop health research methodology not and just concentrate on tropical disease research. We have learned a lot from some rare diseases that have on occasions plagued plants, animals and even.... [pauses] I believe it was [name indistinct] who said here that the strange manner in which the hemorrhagic dengue epidemic appeared in Cuba is still to be determined. You can bet that so far that disease has not appeared abruptly in any other place. Yet it appears abruptly, violently.... [pauses] It is true that it was in part due to our own irresponsible conduct because there had been an epidemiological carelessness that resulted in an increment of the transmitting agent; the well-known mosquito discovered by Finlay as the yellow fever transmitting agent. It is here where our carelessness lies. We allowed the Aedes Agypti mosquito to develop even though we were not yet immersed in the special period and we were in a better economic position. We have been able to reduce it to minimum levels and we have to continue to keep it within tolerable levels or in areas where we were practically able to eradicate that mosquito. [Words indistinct] we were quite besieged and threatened, not only as result of the mere casual intervention of diseases but also because of the premeditated introduction of diseases. All of this prompted us into taking serious steps in the health sector as well as health research and we began to carry out all sorts of research of every type so long as it proved useful to our country, to our development. We decided to pay special attention to the health sector. As a result of this decision, we decided to provide and equip the Tropical Medicine Institute with adequate installations and all the laboratories were [word indistinct]. That is what we practically have today. I said practically have today because we are still missing a few items. In addition, the construction crew, and it is appropriate for me to mention it, still has some details to look after and those small details are usually the ones that take the most time. The P-3 laboratory is still unfinished. Construction has started but it is still unfinished and the institution will not be complete without the P-3 laboratory. I was told that there are still some small details in the hospital part of the project. You are aware of what is missing, are you not? [laughter in background] Good! What have I done during this time period? First of all, I endured the constant delays in the construction. When this project was launched the construction sector had not yet implemented the use of contingents, nor was construction being done efficiently, and there were numerous delays in completing the buildings. Most naturally I took upon myself the task of trying to provide some momentum. Afterward contingents were created, however construction progress was still slow. Now that we are talking about our glories, it is appropriate for us also to mention our faults. That institute was built too slowly. There is still no completion date. I seem to recall that three years ago they had set 26 July as the completion date. That was more or less three or four years ago. I said to myself that no way was this project going to be completed by 26 July. Impossible! There is still too much to be done. To be quite honest, I visited the construction site on numerous occasions while they were still building. How many times? If you recall, I visited the site approximately 20 or 25 times to.... [pauses] I might fall short because I do not want to exaggerate. What's that? [voice heard in the background] I am being told that I visited the site 42 times. They were keeping count. I did it in order to encourage them, commit then, criticizing them, and so forth, in order for them to forge ahead. Until at last, they have nearly completed it. [laughs] It is not the same thing to say that they practically did not conclude it, as to say they nearly concluded it. [laughs] A couple of details still missing but that's all. We can practically inaugurate the building. Objectively speaking I can really say that there are small details still missing. I hope they don't forget now to finish the details. Ever since the institute started operating some time ago without having been finished I also visited it on several occasions. I visited the place on several occasions during the period when the optic neuritis epidemic was taking place just to see what they were doing and the research they were conducting. If this diploma is being awarded for the times I visited, suffered, and struggled for that place, then I gladly accept it. [laughs] At any rate, my merits are quite modest in comparison to all those people who were patient enough to work there for practically six years. I say six years just to be conservative. I was practically an advocate looking for state resources to invest there because installations such as those are costly [words indistinct]. Not only is the civil construction costly, but also the materials, the laboratory and other equipment to be used in the hospital, electrical generator in case of an electricity failure, and climate control system. All that is costly and the country has invested heavily in that institution. Those who come to take courses at the hospital are accommodated at a small hotel located right next to it. The hotel is now being managed by the tourism companies but they also provide services and use the excess labor in other things and this ease things when having to organize events and the progress of the courses offered at the institution. As a result of [words indistinct] efforts with respect to the center, you have been quite generous in awarding me this diploma. I dedicate it to the memory of Pedro Curie who was the founder and driving force behind that institution. [applause] I also dedicate it to the center's workers and Gustavo who worked unflinchingly to establish this new center. I believe it is already a respectable institution and one that can be very useful to the country, the region, and other regions in the world. As you see, the institution is located in an area that is somewhat removed from the city or from the center of the city. This causes problems in the current situation, with the scarcity of fuel and transportation, and we are looking for ways to resolve them. We are also modifying, rebuilding, and preparing housing installations and have already distributed a few units so that the institution's personnel can be close at hand. I hope to have not less than 100 housing units. As you know, we had many foreign technicians here and they lived near the institution; there was a neighborhood for foreign technicians. It is very painful that the foreign technicians have left but, well, we have received considerable training and can already fend for ourselves in many things. In tropical medicine, we received little or almost no help from the foreign technicians. We can really say that our health and biology investigations were carried out mainly -- almost 100 percent -- by Cubans. The foreign technicians worked in other areas; they helped us in other areas. It hurt us very much to see the foreign technicians leave. Their departure, however, released a large number of housing units that will now be used to house the Pedro Curie Institute scientists. We are adapting and preparing the housing units so that the center's staff can live closer. With the scarcity of buses, it would be difficult for them to come to work, approximately 15 km from the center of the city, on a bicycle every day. We are now engaged in preparing those housing units for the center's personnel and will continue to work to find solutions to those problems so the institute can be complete. Based on the experience we have picked up in other institutions, we know the advantage of having housing units close at hand. It eases the scientists' work very much. There are still other things to be done but we will keep on working. I am going to keep on trying to earn the diploma that you have given me. The proof of the good intentions of my work is that I have been working with more or less the same vitality that I placed in other scientific institutions, and I will continue to do so. Some institutions have already been inaugurated but others are about to be inaugurated. Simply said, we have given priority to the areas of scientific investigation even amid the special period situation. We are completing all the institutions in those areas and the ones related to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries with great efforts and sacrifices. We are carrying out many actions in those areas in western Havana. We have the Western Havana Scientific Center, which includes a large number of institutions, that was established to further cooperation among them. The latest joint effort made by the center and its institutions was when the optic neuritis epidemic developed. The scientists worked desperately in everything related to this epidemic. They studied the results of investigations that could give them insight in their search for the causes of the ailment. They studied its characteristics, searched for therapies, and looked for ways to implement programs. What are those programs called? The ones in which we worked so hard? The programs on therapeutic problems? What name was given to those programs? [Unidentified person mumbles something] Clinical tests, you say? Amid the epidemic, we investigated with approximately [words indistinct] to combat the ailment. [Words indistinct] medicines and treatment that could be more effective. We studied the effects of applying ozone or magneto-therapy [magnetoterapia] to the ailing. We studied vitamins to find out which would be more effective. We checked to see what effects would be caused with the use of Interferon, the transference factor [factor de transferencia], and even the (Ictaglobin). All the patients received the basic treatment; the one with vitamins. In addition, however, many patients received other treatments to be able to determine which was the most efficient. As a result of this epidemic there must be tremendous efforts and constant follow-up. There must be a follow-up to the 50,000 cases that were diagnosed. However, it should be taken into account that in these cases there is a tendency for excessive diagnosis [hyperdiagnosticos]. According to the most conservative estimates, no less than 35,000 people were affected by the disease. A huge majority recovered completely. A small group, a few hundred suffered relapses. Their health improved, but their recovery was not complete. All diagnosed cases are being followed up. Those cases that were recorded more than a year ago when we did not have much experience are receiving treatment. We even resorted to the sulfurous water because there were three theories related to the use of this treatment. I imagine that by now they might have discussed the issue in some congress on whether or not it was nutritive, toxic nutritive, toxic, or viral. There were numerous contradictions that prevented us from clearly establishing what the real causes were. A foreign scientist said that to search for a toxin that causes an illness is like searching for a needle in a haystack. A tremendous amount of work was done and every scientist became involved. We are not sure of how many hours went into this. My estimate, based on my participation in meetings with scientists during the epidemic, indicates that we must have surpassed 100 hours. One hundred hours of continuous meetings since there were two weekly meetings. In addition, there were also meetings among ourselves as well as with foreign scientists because we opened the doors to the international scientific community in the belief that this type of epidemic might be of interest to other countries, not just to us. There was strenuous work searching [word indistinct]. The struggle against the illness served to demonstrate two things: the scientific progress we had been able to accomplish, and at the same time, our scientific shortcomings. In which field were we more advanced? In which field were we less advanced? This effort prompted us to become aware of all these issues and to encourage the country's scientific development. Likewise, the Pan- American Health Organization and WHO both cooperated with us in encouraging the country's scientific development. We also established contacts with foreign scientists and scientific centers in order to procure their assistance. But as for the disease we have now, the international scientific community does not have an answer either. It does not have a clear and categorical answer. We must continue researching and studying. However, in circumstances such as these where a number of cases are recorded, there were days when more or less accurate diagnoses were made on approximately 700 cases. It was really a nightmare. The hospitals were overcrowded, yet research never stopped. I know of researchers who would sleep in their labs. They had a cot right beside their electronic microscopes and the culture mediums they were working with. They would sleep right in the lab while working on the epidemic related research. [Words indistinct] it is impossible to become fully aware of the value of these scientific institutions. This is the reason we have given them such a priority status. If a similar problem were to break out in any other country, our research assistants would immediately offer their assistance to that country. For example, when the dengue break out in Ecuador they requested our cooperation and that of other countries and we immediately sent it. We acquired tremendous experience in the struggle against dengue because it was completely banished. The last cases of dengue were hospitalized. Not only did we struggle against the mosquito but special measures were taken to prevent any spread until the day when no cases were recorded. The overall measures finally succeeded. The overall measures also succeeded in eradicating the optic neuritis epidemic. But that was a battle, and dengue was a big one back in 1981. That battle was much greater, and I would say more distressing. When the dengue hit, we knew certain elements regarding transmission and the virus. We were even able to use interferon, which at that time we had just produced, (?to fight) dengue. This was not the case now, since we had to investigate along the way. We had to adopt diverse measures along the way. It was truly distressing. I call that epidemic a nightmare. It was at that time that we could appreciate the enormous importance of the work by scientists, and it is related to something as sacred as human health and human life. In this case, it was particularly sensitive because one of its manifestations affected eyesight. It is truly dramatic to see thousands of people with an eye ailment that could have consequences if they do not receive adequate treatment. This is the motivation of the science workers, and that is the reason for the devotion with which they work. I say that the behavior of scientists is truly exemplary now, as we often cannot even ensure monthly rations of gasoline to those who have cars. There are many scientists in our country using bicycles to move about. I would, of course, rather that they could give [words indistinct] we are doing everything possible so that the material conditions of researchers are good, but our resources are limited. It is truly admirable to see a scientist on a bicycle. Perhaps the only positive result that may come from it is the exercise. It used to be that when many people got home they would do deep knee bends and other sorts of exercises, and now they do not need any kind of exercise as they do 10 km on the bicycle going to and from work. We must have.... [pauses] How many Cubans did you [not further identified] say were here? About 600. Raise your hands those who use a bicycle one way or another. See how many science and medicine workers do it. I do not know what will happen in the future. Perhaps in the future when they have gasoline, vehicles, everything, they will continue to use the bicycle. A country such as the Netherlands has 14 million bicycles. They say everybody, including diplomats, use a bicycle in the Netherlands. We do it now as a necessity. I hope that in the future we will do it as a sport. People.... [pauses] That is a super-developed country. It has a per capita income of $20,000. And yet they use the bicycle. That habit did not exist here. I would really like to tell you that in our country many people used the bus to go two blocks. In sum, under these difficult conditions our scientists are setting a true example. That is why we have such a high concept of science workers. That is why they have acquired great prestige in our country. We are, therefore, very happy that this congress was successful in the opinion of all participants. We are very happy to be able to inaugurate officially at last this institution or this installation, since the institution existed and had been functioning. I would like to tell you we will always be ready to cooperate with our Latin American brothers and countries of the world. I ask you not to view the institution we are inaugurating today as just a Cuban institution, but as an institution of mankind. Thank you. [applause]