Chavez’s death was reported today (Mar 5). He was 58.
Oddly, he accused the United States of infecting Latin American leaders with the disease back in 2011. He noted that five Latin American presidents were suffering from one kind of cancer or another, including himself.
Apparently Chavez got the idea from his pal, Fidel Castro. “Chavez be careful, they’ve developed technology, be careful with what you eat, they could stick you with a small needle,” he said the dictator confided to him.
Chavez never disclosed what kind of cancer he had, but claimed in 2011 (erroneously in hindsight) that he had been cured. Whether that was true or merely for political purposes is unknown. But when his cancer returned, or grew worse, he chose to go back to Cuba for more treatment.
He underwent four operations for a cancer that was first detected in his pelvic region, according to Reuters. His most recent operation was last December.
Should he have swallowed his pride and come to the United States, where medical technology has to be more advanced? Maybe, maybe not.
According to the World Health Origination (WHO), Cuba has one of the highest rates of cancer in the world. It’s the second leading cause of death, behind heart disease, just like the United States. About 21,000 people die there a year and 31,000 new cases are diagnosed out of a population of around 11 million.
“Too many people use alcohol harmfully, eat unhealthily and use tobacco,” said Dr José Luis Di Fabio, who heads the WHO office on the island nation.
As a result, Cuba has taken an aggressive approach to treating cancer, according to the group. The government has made a major investment in biotechnology to fight cancer and stepped up efforts to screen for the disease and prevent it.
The Havana-based Centre of Molecular Immunology (CIM) is leading the fight. It has already registered two vaccines to fight lung cancer, one in 2008 and another just this year, according to the WHO.
The Centre also developed the anti-cancer drug nimotuzumab, to treat advanced tumors in the head, neck and brain. The drug is currently going through clinical trials in Japan and Europe, according to the WHO. The county is testing more than 90 new products in more than 60 clinical trials.
In all, Cuba has spent about $1 billion over the past 20 years on biotechnology research, a substantial amount for the the hard-pressed nation, according to WHO. But the figure is dwarfed by U.S. spending.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute has spent $4.9 billion a year over just the past six years, according to the Institute, while private pharmaceutical companies spend about $1 billion a year on cancer research.
In the end, it may not have been cancer that killed Chavez, but his hatred of capitalism.