Giving Cuba’s pharmaceutical exports a major boost, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa pledged his country would buy up to $1.5 billion worth of Cuban-made medical drugs and vaccines this year.
Ecuador’s move significantly expands the benefits Cuba gets from the ALBA trade and integration agreement, which had been largely restricted to Venezuelan-Cuban economic exchanges. In 2009, Ecuador became a member of ALBA, started in 2004 by Venezuela and Cuba.
Correa said his government would give Cuban-made products priority over those made by pharmaceutical multinationals, as a gesture of reciprocity to Cuban healthcare support.
“I have given the order that the first round [of purchases], obviously, would go to domestic products. But in the second round, we’ll first ask Cuba, and whatever Cuba does not have will go up for bidding to the multinationals,” Correa said in his weekly TV report. The purchases will begin Aug. 22 and end in September.
During a work visit to Havana this month — his second this year — Ecuadorean Health Minister David Chiriboga toured Laboratorios Novatec and Laboratorios Farmacéuticos AICA, where he received “detailed information” about the companies’ product lines. Novatec produces, among others, generic versions of Aspirin and Tamiflu; AICA makes medical supplies such as vials and aerosols.
“Cuba is known worldwide for the quality of its pharmaceutical products and for its advanced biotech industry,” Chiriboga said after his visits. “This plant tour confirmed it.”
Correa didn’t say whether the purchases are intended to become a permanent procedure. Because the purchases will be from the Cuban government, Correa said, Ecuador could reap additional “economic benefits.”
Chiriboga was in Havana to negotiate a bilateral health agreement. The agreement, according to a health ministry press release, will be signed “soon.” In addition to the pharmaceutical purchases, it includes Cuban support in training 10,000 Ecuadorean primary-care community physicians and technicians, and construction of a pharmaceutical plant in Ecuador.
The plant will use Cuban technology and likely be operated by a Cuban joint venture with ENFARMA, the Ecuadorean state pharmaceutical company.
Cuba has provided full-tuition scholarships to hundreds of medical students from Ecuador, established the Manuela Espejo program for disabled people in the South American country, and implemented the Operación Milagro eye surgery program in Ecuador, jointly with Venezuela. There are currently close to 1,000 Ecuadorean citizens studying medicine at the Latin American Medical School in Havana.
“Let’s be grateful to the people who have helped us so much,” Correa said. “Hopefully we will be able to buy a lot of medicine in this brother republic which has helped us so much, that produces top-level medicine, and whose healthcare practices are copied all over the world.”
He said Ecuador hadn’t been able to purchase Cuban medicine before due to the lack of registration for Cuban products in Ecuador. Correa blamed “sabotage” in Ecuador’s health ministry.
Cuba is in the process of setting up a Havana-based medical registry for the ALBA bloc.