Epidemic neuropathy in Cuba: a public health problem related to the Cuban Democracy Act of the United States

Neuroepidemiology. 1998;17(3):111-5. doi: 10.1159/000026161.


In 1992, the USA embargo on Cuba was tightened through the passage of the Cuban Democracy Act (CDA) that explicitly restricts food and medical supplies. The embargo has contributed to cause a number of public health problems in Cuba including: (1) an epidemic of more than 50,000 cases of optic and peripheral neuropathies in 1992-1993, resulting from dietary deficiency; (2) an epidemic of esophageal stenoses in toddlers who inadvertently drank liquid lye as a result of a soap shortage for which liquid lye was substituted; (3) an outbreak of Guillain-Barré syndrome in Havana, in June and July 1994, resulting from water contamination due to lack of chemicals for water treatment to eliminate Campylobacter sp.; (4) outbreaks of self-inflicted disease and injuries caused by rioting among Cubans detained at the US Naval base at Guantánamo Bay, and (5) a decline in medical practice standards and public health indicators in Cuba resulting from the enactment of the CDA, documented by the American Public Health Association in 1993 and confirmed in March 1997 by the American Association for World Health. Despite this evidence, the Cuban embargo remains a politically sensitive subject in the USA, resistant to public health concerns, as evidenced by the recent passage of the Helms-Burton Act. The public health effects of the CDA need to be reviewed with possible revocation or at least modification.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Campylobacter Infections / complications
  • Campylobacter Infections / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Cuba / epidemiology
  • Disease Outbreaks / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Esophageal Stenosis / epidemiology
  • Esophageal Stenosis / etiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nervous System Diseases / diet therapy
  • Nervous System Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Nervous System Diseases / etiology
  • Nutritional Status
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / epidemiology
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / etiology
  • Polyradiculoneuropathy / epidemiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Public Health / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Public Policy
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States
  • Vitamin B Deficiency / epidemiology