Page last updated at 00:26 GMT, Saturday, 16 January 2010

Cuba investigates psychiatric hospital deaths

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Cuban authorities are investigating the deaths of 26 patients at a psychiatric hospital linked to a spell of unusually cold weather.

Human rights activists blamed the deaths on negligence and the dilapidated state of the hospital.

The health ministry said natural causes such as old age, respiratory problems and complications from chronic diseases contributed to the deaths.

Cuba prides itself on its provision of free universal healthcare.

The deaths occurred at the Psychiatric Hospital in the capital, Havana, which houses some 2,500 patients.

In a statement, Cuba's government said the deaths were "linked to the prolonged low temperatures that reached 3.6C... and to risk factors peculiar to mentally ill patients and to natural biological deterioration".

It said a health ministry investigation had already identified "various deficiencies" at the hospital.

"Those principally responsible will be submitted to trial," it added.

The statement followed a report by the independent Cuban Commission on Human Rights.

The commission denounced the deaths as a case of "criminal negligence", saying at least 24 of the patients died of hypothermia.

It said the hospital was in such a bad state that it could not protect people from the cold, citing problems including broken windows.

"It is the highest number of avoidable deaths in a Cuban hospital in the history of the republic," it said, adding that the Cuban health system was showing "growing signs of deterioration".

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