US Cancer Patients Become Unlikely Cuban Drug Smugglers

'American treatments were not helping me. What other choice did I have?'
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 16, 2016 4:37 PM CST
US Cancer Patients Become Unlikely Cuban Drug Smugglers
Cimavax sits on display for the media during a press conference in Havana, Cuba, in 2008.   (AP Photo/Javier Galeano)

(Newser) – "When we were children, we were taught that Cubans didn't know what they were doing," 69-year-old Mick Phillips says. "Turns out they do." The New York Times looks at American lung cancer patients, like Phillips, who are traveling to Cuba and smuggling back a cancer vaccine called Cimavax. Cimavax has been available in Cuba since 2011 but hasn't been approved in the US. Medication can't be imported from Cuba due to the embargo, and medical care is not one of the approved reasons for Americans to visit Cuba. That didn't stop Zuby Malik. The 78-year-old retired doctor returned from a trip to Cuba in June with 80 vials of Cimavax in her son's backpack. "American treatments were not helping me," she says. "What other choice did I have?"

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Phillips has been smuggling Cimavax back to the US every year since 2012. "Without this medicine, I would be dead," he tells the Times. Despite Phillips' experience, Cuban trials of the vaccine have shown only limited success. In the most recent tests, patients who got the vaccine after chemo lived only three to five months longer than patients who didn't get it. Cimavax brought back Malik's energy and made breathing easier, at least at first. Recently, fluid has been building up in her lung, and she says she's likely to try something else. Regardless, the number of Americans seeking unapproved medical treatment in Cuba will only increase as Cuban-American relations improve. Read the full story here. (Read more Cuba stories.)

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