The numbers on Cuba’s cholera outbreak continued to grow over the weekend, with officials reporting 12 new confirmed cases, bringing the total to 170, and eight new suspected cases in the southeastern province of Granma.
Cuba’s Public Health Ministry, in a statement published in the official news media on Saturday morning, declared that the outbreak was “decreasing” with 158 confirmed cases and three deaths confirmed.
But the numbers provided by lead Granma province epidemiologist Ana Maria Batista during her appearance Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings on provincial television showed increases in all the categories.
“The numbers show it is growing,” said Santiago Marquez, a physician in the Granma city of Manzanillo who has watched Batista’s nightly reports for more than a week and provided the details to independent journalists in Cuba and El Nuevo Herald.
Batista reported 158 confirmed cholera cases in the province on Friday, 163 on Saturday — though her town-by-town breakdown added up to 164 — and six additional cases on Sunday for a total of 170, Marquez said.
She noted on Sunday that eight new cases of suspected cholera had been reported, and that 27 people were hospitalized on Saturday alone with diarrhea and vomiting, the key symptoms of the disease, according to the physician.
More general cases of diarrhea and vomiting, which spike every summer with the rains and heat, rose from 5,680 in her Saturday report to 6,002 in her Sunday appearance, Marquez reported. About 97 percent of those already have recovered, she added.
The number of Granma’s 13 municipalities where cholera has been reported rose from seven to nine, Batista noted.
Appearing with Batista on provincial television Sunday, Deputy Director of Provincial Transportation José Mendoza González again advised residents to put off unnecessary travel in order to avoid spreading the disease.
Cuban officials have repeatedly assured since early July that the cholera outbreak was under control and that the rising number of confirmed cases was because laboratories need a week or more to confirm a diagnosis of cholera.
Dissidents and independent journalists have alleged that the cholera death toll stands at five to 15 but that the government has confirmed only three to avoid scaring tourists, one of the country’s main sources of hard currency. They have also reported cholera cases in Havana, Santiago de Cuba and other parts of the island.
The Health Ministry announcement published Saturday confirmed a few cases had been reported outside of Granma, but noted that all were people who had been in the province. It was not clear if the 158 cases it reported referred to all the island, or Granma province alone. Batista has made it clear her numbers are for the province only.
The ministry announcement was only the national government’s second comment on the epidemic since July 3, when it confirmed three deaths and 53 cases caused by the bacteria Vibrio Cholerae but did not use the word cholera. Saturday’s statement did use the word.
Cuba’s public health system, once one of the best in the hemisphere and still considered capable of dealing with emergencies, has been battered since the collapse of the Soviet Union’s massive subsidies until the early 1990s.
Hundreds of Cuban doctors, nurses and other medical personnel are working in Haiti, where an outbreak of cholera has killed more than 7,000 people since 2010.