Cuba has exported pharmaceuticals worth US$300mn so far this year, making drugs the second most important commodity in the country's US$2bn export market behind nickel. Cuba has been supporting its generics-based pharmaceutical industry as a means of reducing economic reliance on commodities such as sugar and nickel.
One of the biggest importers of Cuban drugs is Venezuela. Under an agreement between the two countries, Venezuela is supplying Cuba with cheap oil in return for medical personnel and pharmaceuticals for use in its struggling healthcare system.
However, Cuban pharmaceutical imports remain minimal due to the impact of the US trade embargo. This makes it very difficult for patients to receive hi-tech, innovative drugs manufactured by US-based drugmakers. In addition, the US has recently fined pharmaceutical companies based in Panama and Mexico for selling medicines to Cuba. The blockade has also prohibited the sale of low-cost Cuban-made medicines such as cholesterol-lowering drugs and HIV/AIDS treatments in the US.