Castro Defends Cuba's Response To Flu Outbreak

By: Anita Snow, Associated Press Email
By: Anita Snow, Associated Press Email

HAVANA (AP) - Fidel Castro defended Havana's response to the swine flu outbreak, including suspension of direct flights with Mexico, saying Thursday that Cuba is especially vulnerable to an epidemic because the U.S. embargo prevents it from buying medicine and diagnostic equipment.

Hours later Cuba confirmed two new cases of swine flu in a group of Mexican students, bringing the island's total cases to three. A Public Health Ministry statement said 11 of 15 students in the group were found to be healthy and released from a hospital in central Cuba.

Cuba has not said whether it has access to Tamiflu. But the World Health Organization says it sent 2.4 million treatments of the anti-flu treatment to 72 developing countries last week.

"What does one of these epidemics mean to Cuba?" Castro said in an essay read on state television. "Our country has no access to buy whatever medicine, raw materials or equipment or components for diagnostic equipment produced by U.S. transnational companies."

Mexican authorities were offended when Castro accused Mexico of waiting to disclose the epidemic until after President Barack Obama visited in mid-April - even though Canadian and U.S. scientists did not identify the virus in Mexican patients until a week later.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon has said he may cancel a planned a trip to Cuba this year because the island grounded flights to and from Mexico.

"Why accuse us of being enemies of the Mexican people when we adopt measures that have been put together beforehand to protect our people?" Castro asked.

More than 6,600 cases of swine flu have been reported in 33 countries worldwide, with 69 deaths.


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