Ending the Cuban Embargo Could Save Lives
On March 21, President Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba in 88 years. The president’s reengagement with the island nation has the potential to unleash significant trade opportunities that will benefit Cubans with greater access to American medical advances, but it will surprise many Americans to find Cuba could help the U.S. in the war on cancer. Since 2011, Cubans have had access to CimaVax, a vaccine that both treats and vaccinates against lung cancer in certain patients. The situation surrounding the medication is a strong indictment of America’s current policy toward Cuba and illustrates the importance of free and open exchange.
Since the U.S. embargo against Cuba in 1962, trade between the two nations has been largely nonexistent, denying both Americans and Cubans access to life-enhancing goods, services and ideas. Since the late 1980s, Cuba’s Center for Molecular Immunology (CMI) has been researching treatments for lung cancer, ultimately resulting in CimaVax. The vaccine has been tested on 5,000 people around the world, including 1,000 Cubans. Published studies of the vaccine have shown an extended life of 18 months for vaccinated patients compared to seven months for the unvaccinated.
Innovation in medicine occurs when scientists share knowledge with one another, and American researchers benefit from sharing knowledge with their Cuban counterparts. Erecting artificial barriers to the knowledge-sharing process only inhibits medical advances that can save lives. Dr. Kelvin Lee of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York has visited Cuba on multiple occasions and praised the scientific advances of Cuba’s biotechnology industry. Researchers at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute are currently applying to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to have the vaccine undergo clinical trial in the U.S., where American researchers will attempt to replicate the outcomes of the Cuban researchers
Last April, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo met with the Cuban government in Havana to initiate the process of bringing the vaccine to the U.S. However, the current U.S. embargo creates additional bureaucratic hurdles at the FDA before this vaccine can be offered to the American public. Between the application process, trial period, inspection and other regulatory hurdles, it could take up to five years for the vaccine to be widely available in the U.S., despite the extensive clinical research done on the vaccine in Cuba. Eliminating the Cuban embargo and other artificial trade barriers, however, could allow American patients to benefit quickly from the vaccine and other medical discoveries taking place in Cuba.
According to the American Lung Association, lung cancer currently kills 432 Americans a day, accounting for 27 percent of all cancer deaths. However, protectionist trade policies deprive Americans of valuable innovative advances in health care. Societies prosper when goods, services and ideas are freely shared between economies. Therefore, it is imperative that the U.S. expands economic trade whenever possible and reduce barriers that prevent American consumers from reaping the benefits of economic engagement with the international community.