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A friend of mine from Portugal is currently hospitalized with pneumonia near Havana, Cuba. The problem is that they don't have the medication/antibiotic that she needs available and her situation is getting worse by the day.

Is there any way, any service, to transport the required medication from some other place close by, like the USA (Miami is the closest major city I can think of), to the hospital in Havana?

The Portuguese embassy is already informed about the situation, but so far there is no concrete action being taken in this direction. The hospital says she cannot travel like this, so it's likely that she will need the medication first before transporting her back to Portugal.

Does anyone have any ideas as to what can be done to get my friend the help/medication she needs in Cuba?

I'm asking here, because we're running out of ideas here at the moment and any suggestions would be appreciated.


Good news, the hospital managed to procure more of the antibiotic for intravenous application. Thanks everyone for the input! Even though helping from far away isn't always possible or easy, at least trying doesn't make one feel completely useless or helpless.

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    Does she have a good travel insurance? Some are able to mobilise amazing resources. Otherwise this is probably going to be difficult as antibiotics are usually delivered only with a prescription from a doctor, and many are extremely difficult to find even in “rich” countries these days. Also shipping things to scuba is probably going to be more difficult than having someone actually fly there.
    – jcaron
    Sep 30, 2023 at 13:06
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    For sure someone needs to contact her travel insurance provider if they’ve not been engaged already (I really do hope your friend didn’t go to Cuba without decent cover)
    – Traveller
    Sep 30, 2023 at 13:37
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    I'm sorry to bring this up, but are you sure this isn't a scam?
    – mkennedy
    Sep 30, 2023 at 15:26
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    @Julian - It looks like a scam because the person asking has injected urgency into the situation, because your friend is in another country and may be having problems talking to you directly, and because this could easily turn into a a request for money for 'bribes', 'customs payments', etc.
    – Valorum
    Sep 30, 2023 at 20:41
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    Re: @Valorum's point, here's the advice page from the US Department of State on scams that often start out the way you're describing; see the "Grandparent/Relative Scam" section. I'm glad that your case wasn't a scam in the end and that your friend is getting the medicine she needs; but this site often sees questions from people asking similar questions where it most certainly is a scam. Sep 30, 2023 at 20:44

2 Answers 2

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Here are some ideas. I have no idea if they are any good but, I guess questionable ideas are better than none at this point. You can always ignore them!

  1. If she still has a primary care physician in Portugal, contact them directly and ask them to prescribe the drug. Provide details and documentation of her condition.
  2. If you can't contact her doctor, try your own or call around. See if someone bites. Reach out to your local medical professional association.
  3. Using one of the two methods above, procure the drug.
  4. Contact the Cuban embassy in Portugal (https://www.visahq.com/cuba/embassy/portugal/) Ask them for advice on how to ship the drug and get it into the country. They may be able to provide documents that help with that. They can also advise on Visa or Tourist Card issues
  5. Ask the hospital or the AirBnB host in Cuba also for a Cuban prescriptions. They wont be able to fill it but it can help getting the drug across the border.
  6. Find a courier. You, a friend or family member, a student from a local college, etc. Someone who has some experience with travelling and is willing to jump on a plane on short notice. If you are lucky you can find a Cuban student at a Portuguese college that would be happy to help and make a few bucks in the process.
  7. Figure out what type of Visa they might need. As far as I can tell a "Tourist Card" is needed which can be obtained online, but I couldn't figure out how long that might take.
  8. Put the courier, the drug and all documentation on a plane and hope for the best. Ideally someone can meet the courier at the airport to receive the drug or you can schedule a car pickup.

None of this will be easy or cheap. If she has travel insurance, it may be worth contacting them and keeping them informed. In my personal experience the main goal of travel insurance is to make things difficult and deny & delay claims, but you might get lucky.

If you can't find a courier or if cost or visa issues are prohibitive, you can consider using a commercial shipper: DHL maybe a good choice (since it's not headquartered in the US), but it's certainly worth checking Fedex etc as well. The most tricky part of international shipping is always getting the shipment through customs. Cuban customs isn't the easiest to deal with so pre-clearing this with the Cuban embassy would be really helpful. It's much easier to get something through customs if a real person is there to talk to.

There are also commercial courier services, but I have no experience with them and I'm guessing they will be really expensive.

A lot will depend on your personal negotiation skills and the attitude of the person you are talking with. None about this is standard so this is all about good-will, flexibility and willingness to improvise and help. If you run into a difficult person sometimes the best course of action is to hang up, wait half an hour and call again (hoping to get someone different).

You can work the PR-angle if you have to. "Cuban embassy helps saving Portuguese tourist" is a great headline that makes everyone happy.

Good luck!

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  • Thank you, this goes along the lines we've already been thinking. I cannot travel at the moment, but if necessary, hopefully someone else can, like her parents. I'm hoping that the Portuguese embassy can do something for her.
    – Julian
    Sep 30, 2023 at 14:56
  • I highly doubt that this will be the first time a Cuban hospital (particularly those that treat foreigners) has experienced this situation. Tourists are required to have adequate medical insurance, altho in my experience Immigration never asks to see it on arrival. So the first thing the OP should do, before embarking on any complicated/difficult/costly/possibly illegal action, is find out what the position regarding insurance is, and what exactly the hospital has said. The patient will be liable for medical expenses in Cuba, of course internationalinsurance.com/hospitals/cuba
    – Traveller
    Sep 30, 2023 at 14:59
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    @Julian it’s not obvious to me to place the law above life. Sep 30, 2023 at 17:00
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    I didn't say that I'm placing law above life. What I meant is that if there is a high chance that an illegal action will be stopped by authorities, then it's all in vain. You don't want to be caught as a drug trafficker, either.
    – Julian
    Sep 30, 2023 at 17:13
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    @Hilmar I didn’t mean to imply you were. One can never be too careful with the authorities in Cuba, and even more now given the recent worsening of the energy crisis and economic situation there on the island
    – Traveller
    Sep 30, 2023 at 18:45
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A doctor from the hospital was able to procure more antibiotics. Thank you everyone for the input. My friend has travel health insurance and the costs are covered by that. If all goes well, she may be able to leave for home in one week.

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