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Cuba says cold spell killed 26 in mental hospital

Published: 8:28PM Saturday January 16, 2010 Source: Reuters

  •  (Source: Reuters)
    Source: Reuters

Cuba says 26 patients in Havana's main mental hospital have died due to frigid weather and other factors in the past week, and those responsible will be put on trial.

The statement, read on state-run television, followed a report by the independent Cuban Commission on Human Rights saying that two dozen patients at the Psychiatric Hospital of Havana had died of hypothermia due to negligence during an unusual extended cold snap on the tropical island.

The government said the deaths were "linked to the prolonged low temperatures that reached 3.6 degrees C ... and to risk factors peculiar to mentally ill patients and to natural biological deterioration."

The rights commission charged that incapacitated patients had not been properly covered and that the hospital was so dilapidated that it could not protect people inside from the cold.

It accused the Cuban government of criminal negligence and said the deaths were an indication of the deterioration of Cuba's national health care system.

"It is the highest number of avoidable deaths in a Cuban hospital in the history of the republic," the commission said.

The government said the deaths were being investigated by a commission created by the Public Health Ministry, which so far has found "various deficiencies" in measures taken at the hospital, which has 2,500 patients.

"Those principally responsible will be submitted to trial," the statement said.

Cuba provides free universal health care for its citizens and prides itself on having a strong system, despite its economic problems.

Cubans complain that facilities are in poor condition, but the communist government blames many of its problems on the longstanding US trade embargo, which it says harms the Cuban economy and makes it difficult to get medical equipment and medicine.