The Syringes for Cuba campaign is working to close Cuba's 30 million syringe deficit. (By Cynthia Carris Alonso and Rita McNiff, in Havana.)
Nurses register people getting the Cuban vaccine. Photo credit: Ernesto Millán OZKART

“This campaign might be the most important work of my life,” Bob Schwartz told me recently when talking about Syringes for Cuba. “We have an opportunity to save lives and open the Cuban economy again!” 

Bob is the executive director of Global Health Partners (GHP), a group of non-profit organizations that, among other initiatives, has been working for decades to build a large-scale humanitarian medical aid and exchange program with Cuban hospitals and community clinics to help offset the limited access to medical supplies due to the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba. 

Currently, Global Health Partners is working with the Saving Lives Campaign to build a broad-based, urgent drive to supply vital medical tools to Cuba in the fight against COVID-19, with a new endeavor called: “Syringes for Cuba.” 

Since Cuba has about 10 million syringes but needs more than 30 million, GHP is working persistently to address this syringe shortage.

The campaign goal is to raise enough funding to purchase about 10 million syringes, so Cuba can achieve their own ambitious goals of vaccinating all of Havana by this coming September, and the whole country by the end of this year. 

It is widely known that Cuba has some of the best medical workers in the world who not only serve their own communities, but also travel the world saving lives and treating patients affected by natural disasters and serious epidemics including both Ebola and COVID-19. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Cuba has deployed 53 medical brigades –  a total of more than 4,000 doctors and nurses, to over 40 countries world-wide, assisting with the treatment of numerous COVID-19 patients.


You can help by making a tax-deductible donation by debit or credit card on the website here.

$50 buys 1,500 syringes which will fully vaccinate 500 Cubans.

$100 buys 3,000 syringes which will fully vaccinate 1,000 Cubans.

$500 buys 15,000 syringes which will fully vaccinate 5,000 Cubans.

$1,000 buys 30,000 syringes which will fully vaccinate 10,000 Cubans.


While Cuban scientists from the country’s robust biotech industry have developed five vaccine candidates which are in final trials, the vaccines are only effective in protecting people against COVID-19 if the country has enough syringes to actually vaccinate its people. As of now, the two Cuban manufactured vaccines which are showing high efficacy rates in Phase 3 trials are called the Soberana 02 (Sovereign in English) and the Abdala vaccine. These two vaccines have already received emergency approval and are being administered to medical personnel and the general population in high-risk areas, such as Havana, where transmission rates are higher, and the majority of the country’s cases are centered. Yet, both vaccines require three doses to be most effective. With a population of about 11.3 million people, that’s 33,900,000 syringes needed to inject all of the island’s residents. However, there is currently a dire shortage of basic medical supplies in Cuba, including, and most importantly, syringes to administer vaccines.

abdala vaccine
A vial of Cuba’s Abdala vaccine in Cuba. Photo credit: Ernesto Millán OZKART

In the past few years, the Cuban government transitioned the economy from a dependence on export sales such as sugar, rum, and tobacco, to a thriving tourism industry which welcomed visitors from around the world. However, in the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic caused the Cuban government to close the island’s borders resulting in the subsequent crash of the Cuban economy ending all national development, investment programs and projects, as well as drastically challenging the growing sector of private entrepreneurship. Tourism has been on hold since then, apart from a brief re-opening of the borders in November 2020 that resulted in a second wave of the virus that has not subsided. In the past month, daily positives have been equal to that at the start of the pandemic, averaging over 1,000 new positive cases per day. 

Time is of the essence, as there is a 40-day turn around for manufacturing and shipping syringes for national distribution to about 18 hospitals in Cuba.

Today, the perfect storm of crisis in Cuba is evident. The recently tightened U.S. economic embargo against the country, combined with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting loss of tourism to the island, hit Cuba abruptly and drastically. Basic necessities like food are scarce and expensive, and many Cubans feel the country has been thrown into a second “Special Period.” (The first one took place in the early 1990s when the country lost economic support from Russia, and fell into a severe economic emergency.)

“For the world to fully heal, we all need to forget about the existence of borders and think about humanity as one. Together we can save each other.”

Angelay Perez

Now Cuba needs help. Due to the U.S. economic blockade which has been in place since 1961, it is very difficult for Cuba to access much-needed medical equipment, medications, and supplies if the vendor and/or the transportation company is U.S. owned, has a U.S. subsidiary, or does business with the U.S.

syringes for cuba global health partners
Nurses take blood pressure before and after the Cuban Abdala vaccine. Photo credit: Ernesto Millán OZKART

Since Cuba has about 10 million syringes but needs more than 30 million, GHP is working persistently to address this syringe shortage. They have already received the necessary export license permissions from the U.S. Department of Commerce. As people all around the world are trying to buy the same vaccination supplies and syringes, as well as reserve container ships for transport, the price of plastic has soared and competition has escalated exponentially for purchasing and transporting syringes. Nonetheless, GHP is on the case for Cuba. Now, they just need to raise enough money to achieve their goals of buying ten million syringes and delivering them to Cuba.

Related Post: A Nobel Peace Prize For Cuba? Thank Henry Reeve

Although there are many obstacles to overcome, Bob Schwartz and his partner organizations working on the Syringes for Cuba campaign believe that through this campaign and with your donation efforts, Cuban lives will be saved, the economy can re-open, Cubans can get back to work, and the country can become a global destination hot spot once again. 

The Cuban and U.S. flags are displayed in a vintage American car in Havana, Cuba. Photo: Cynthia Carris Alonso

Time is of the essence, as there is a 40-day turn around for manufacturing and shipping syringes for national distribution to about 18 hospitals in Cuba. The Cuban Ministry of Health is responsible for the vaccination effort, and they will send syringe donations to hospitals across the country.

As a donor, you can experience the rewarding feeling of a win-win situation. The more people getting vaccinated in the world, the sooner the world can end the pandemic, and we can all get back to enjoying travel and cultural exchange.

Once all Cuban residents are vaccinated, Cuba plans to manufacture 100 million additional vaccine doses to offer vaccination to visitors, sell doses internationally, as well as donate and send doses to developing countries around the world. 

Related Post: For the First Time, Cuba’s White Coat Army Went to Europe

Angelay Perez, a young singer from Havana, while waiting to get her vaccine this week, shared with us her dream to sing again to a live audience. When learning of GHP’s Campaign for Syringes, she became evidently emotional telling us, “For the world to fully heal, we all need to forget about the existence of borders and think about humanity as one. Together we can save each other.”

syringes for cuba bob schwartz
Ernesto Millán with his vaccination card. Photo credit: Yoel Marrero OZKART

As a donor, you can experience the rewarding feeling of a win-win situation. The more people getting vaccinated in the world, the sooner the world can end the pandemic, and we can all get back to enjoying travel and cultural exchange.

global health partners
Courtesy Syringes for Cuba

(Photos at the The Pastorita Vaccination Site in Matanzas, Cuba, by Ernesto Míllan/OZKART production company. Cynthia Carris Alonso is the author of A Taste of Cuba: A Journey Through Cuba and Its Savory Cuisine (Apollo Publishers, 2018))

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Cynthia Carris Alonso is the author of two books about Cuba and has been photographing the island since 1992. She is a photographer, photo editor, and researcher and has worked for internationally-renowned magazines, books, and websites such as Time.com, ABCnews.com, Newsweek, BusinessWeek, The New York Times, Rhythm Music Magazine, People en Español, Scholastic and Vanity Fair. In 2016, Cynthia Carris Alonso covered President Obama's historic visit to Cuba, as the two countries continued working toward normalizing relations. With rare access to Cuba, Alonso has photographed Cuba's most famous musicians, covered news events and daily life of the Cuban people on assignment, and documented their unique and mysterious culture, people, passions and spirit of survival. Cynthia’s first photography book, Passage to Cuba, was published by Skyhorse Publishing in 2015. Her latest book, A Taste of Cuba (Apollo Publishers, 2018), celebrates the wonderful taste of Cuban cuisine, as well as the sites, colors, and energy of the Cuban culture. Alonso has given speeches about photography, journalism and Cuba. She has appeared on television and in the press, as a Cuba consultant giving interviews in both English and Spanish. Cynthia is married to Cuban writer José Luis Alonso, and they live in New York City with their daughter.

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