Health in Cuba: The Only Viable Options?

Health with Totalitarianism, Health at the Planet’s Expense or Formal Democracy without Health

Erasmo Calzadilla

HAVANA TIMES — Let us continue to go through Cuba’s 2015 Yearly Statistics Report. In the first post of this series, we analyzed the demographic trends in contemporary Cuban society and, in the second, we tackled health services and resources. In this piece, we are going to compare our country’s main health indicators with those of the rest of the world.

The following graphs summarize the situation:

Grafico 1 version 1
Life expectancy at birth, Infant mortality rate and the maternal mortality rate.

On the average, Cubans enjoy a life expectancy eight years longer than what we find in the rest of the world. The life expectancy at birth of our rich neighbors (the United States and Canada) is only one year above ours.

This graph does not show any values per se because its aim is to illustrate proportional magnitudes.
GDP, energy consumption and the ecological footprint. This graph does not show any values per se because its aim is to illustrate proportional magnitudes.

Infant and maternal mortality rates on the Caribbean island are on a par with those of developed countries. The difference is that Cuba achieves this with a very low GDP and per capita energy consumption level, and with an ecologic footprint that barely exceeds the planet’s bio-capacity. In Latin America and the rest of the world, maternal and infant mortality rates are a genuine disaster.

The Cuban experiment demonstrates that underdeveloped countries can aspire to an acceptable health system, that one needn’t be a superpower to do so.

To achieve high human development at the expense of dirtying the planet and as a result of unjust socio-economic relations (shoveling manure on others) is a measly and bitter victory, but to do so employing dictatorial and totalitarian methods isn’t acceptable either.

The alternative does not appear to be in Latin America, a continent where formal democracy (where it exists) has not been able to offer the people a good health system. What real or utopian society could offer us the inspiration to build a better future? I leave the question with you, dear commentators, who know more of the outside world than I. I only ask that, this time around, you do not mention Singapore and the Scandinavian countries as ideal models for Cuba, as this is not the cartoon section.

A question that went unanswered in the previous post: are Cuba’s grandiose achievements in the area of health, as presented by official statistics, real? The numbers presented by the government generate justified suspicions, but the indices related to mortality (as those exposed in this article) are harder to doctor. I don’t know of any serious analyst who questions them.

Erasmo Calzadilla

Erasmo Calzadilla: I find it difficult to introduce myself in public. I've tried many times but it doesn’t flow. I’m more less how I appear in my posts, add some unpresentable qualities and stir; that should do for a first approach. If you want to dig a little deeper, ask me for an appointment and wait for a reply.


16 thoughts on “Health in Cuba: The Only Viable Options?

  • May 25, 2016 at 1:36 pm
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    You are correct in thinking that Cubans don’t realize that they are in many ways rich. They have a social system based upon the extended family and music, both of which are free because the Castro regime cannot control them – although Fidel Castro endeavored initially to do so with the Beatles. In every other respect they are poor. It is in my view absolute balderdash to say that sexual activity is: “through the roof in Cuba”, and I challenge you to substantiate that comment. With less than 20% of the food consumed being produced in Cuba, whether it is “organic” or not is immaterial and in any case, if I was to place half a dozen samples of so-called organic food and similarly half a dozen samples of non organic food before you, you would be unable to tell one from the other.

  • May 25, 2016 at 10:43 am
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    Check Gapminder.org and you will be able to find the following information from the numbers they have about Cuba on infant mortality (since 1937) and life span (since 1801).

    In 1958 Cuba had the lowest infant mortality rate in Latin America, and was able to achieve the 1958 average 20 years earlier.

    In 1958 Cuba had the fifth longest life span in Latin America, and was able to achieve the 1958 average 10 years earlier.

    These figures are never mentioned by the present Cuba government as they want to sell to the world (and to the Cubans) the idea that Cuba was like Haiti before 1959.

  • May 25, 2016 at 10:34 am
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    “…Cuba may be the safest country on the planet… ”

    With Cuba having the sixth highest prison population per person in the world, is a bit difficult to say that there are fewer crimes than elsewhere . The alternative is that Cuba is a very repressive state where almost anything is a crime.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_incarceration_rate

    In addition , statistics show that among 218 countries , Cuba is ranked 110 in murders ( 4.2) , which is nothing to be proud . In that respect it is an average country, even if it is better than most of Latin America. Interestingly, the USA, with ( 3.6) are in position 104, better than Cuba , and that is taking into account that in USA there are millions of weapons in the hands of the population and they have those massacres that receive much press.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_intentional_homicide_rate

    So, it does not seem that Cuba is the safest country, although it can be said it is probably the one where less crime news are broadcast in media.

  • May 25, 2016 at 8:27 am
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    Please reread my comment more carefully. I simply stated that I remain skeptical. I see “skeptical” as somewhere between believe and reject. As the Castros have proven themselves to be untrustworthy in reporting government statistics accurately and lacking an independent media to cross-check the ‘facts’, even Cuban adult mortality indices must be taken with a grain of salt and therefore not be considered as “evidence” of anything. I find it confusing at best, that even when low Cuban birth rates are taken into consideration along with the allegedly high infant mortality rates, the Cuban population should be growing at a higher rate. Especially given the self-reported adult mortality indices. That’s too say, if adults are living longer and children are living past 5 years of age, even with the historically low birth rates, the island’s population should be higher. Are Cubans leaving the island in greater numbers than the Castros are willing to admit? Are adults dying from cancer in greater numbers? Are women having even fewer children than the Castros report? There are too many variables to consider anything “evidence”. What is clear is that the numbers don’t add up.

  • May 25, 2016 at 4:41 am
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    The article you cite is a complete red herring Moses. It refers to self-reported health of individuals. This is not what Erasmo is speaking about.

    Yes it is true that even mortality data come from individual governments and so it is possible there can be some lack of comparability.

    That is harder to study.

    On infant mortality there are many more problems of comparability internationally than on life expectancy. There are 2 serious analysts now questioning if Cuban infant mortality may be somewhat understated, not by doctoring figures, but by definitions which differ from country to country.

    They suggest that Cuban infant mortality is still very low, as I read it, and to me it still is impressive

    I’d like to see people like Erasmo address their arguments, as I am open-minded. Should I write more about this?

    On adult mortality I don’t think it’s been questioned, except by Moses’ brand of opinion. Does anyone think differently?

    Does anyone really think that the sort of personalised volleys here are useful? I think the smoke clouds of opinion make it harder to consider evidence, as Erasmo asked

  • May 24, 2016 at 8:55 pm
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    Article 39 (c) Cuban Constitution June, 2002 on the subject of education:

    (c) to promote the patriotic education and communist training for the new generation.

    The prime purpose of education under the Castro communist regime is indoctrination and ‘respect’ for their system. That is why 10.9% of the GDP (the highest percentage in the world) is spent on ‘education’.
    If you support communism and the inevitable dictatorship that goes with it, you will approve the purpose. If you prefer a world in which people are free and encouraged to think as individuals rather than as an ‘educated’ mass, then your admiration for Castro type education will diminish.

  • May 23, 2016 at 12:26 pm
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    As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what I did.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3601939/
    WHO health indices are self-reported.
    I agree that the days are numbered for the embargo. I see it as a foot race between the end of the Castro reign in Cuba and the lifting of the embargo. The embargo in Lane 1 and the Castros are in Lane 2. I make no secret of my dislike for the Castro dictatorship but not all my comments are negative. I do not lump the Cuban people, some of whom are my family, in with the Castros. Read my comments about Cuban jazz, the National Ballet and Cuban boxers.

  • May 23, 2016 at 12:09 pm
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    As a matter of fact that is exactly what I did. The WHO indices are self-reported. I agree that the days are numbered for the embargo. I see it as a foot race. Castro’s in lane 1 and the embargo in lane 2. I hope that the Castros live long enough to see the embargo ALMOST lifted. By the way, I have made no mystery of my dislike of the Castros. Are you just getting to the party. There’s a difference between the Castros and the Cuban people. Not all my comments are negative. Read what I have commented about Cuban jazz, the National Ballet and Cuban boxers.

  • May 23, 2016 at 12:01 pm
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    If antidepressants were easily accessible or available in Cuba, I think you would have a different set of facts. Where did you get your “sexual activity information? I mean, think about it? Birth rates are incredibly low in Cuba. Especially in comparison to other Latin American countries. So by your comment, either abortions and/or condom and contraceptive use are also “through the roof”, or Cubans are sterile. Any evidence of that? Giving Cubans credit for eating “organic” is like giving Haitians credit for low-cost housing. But hey, I agree, Cuba is relatively safe. But safest country? You should check the homicide rate.

  • May 23, 2016 at 11:49 am
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    So when you can’t debate me with facts, you take a shot at debasing me with personal attacks? By the way, who is “us”? Did you take a poll or just make your idiot comment up?

  • May 23, 2016 at 11:28 am
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    I have read your comments on various articles in the Havana Times — everyone of them negative. I am sure you have a personal vendetta against Cuba and it’s Government. But it doesn’t matter, because you don’t matter. The Embargo will be lifted because there is no justifiable reason for it to exist. Who cares if you are skeptical — what is that supposed to mean, do you have proof that it is Castro SELF – REPORTED information. Maybe you should check it out on the World Health Organization web site to prove your claim instead of giving us your undocumented opinion.

  • May 23, 2016 at 11:16 am
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    Andrew, safest country on the planet for tourists… yes. But cubano on cubano… completely different story.

  • May 23, 2016 at 10:32 am
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    And most of us are “skeptical” of YOU and question your real goals. The revolution has made great gains for the common people, especially in health and education. You’ve been away too long.

  • May 23, 2016 at 9:42 am
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    I think, even more important the life expectancy and death rates is, although a much more difficult thing to graph, the general happiness of the publics of different nations in comparison to cuba. Cubans often don’t realize that, in many ways they are rich. There is far less use of antidepressants in Cuba. Relationships are tighter and more genuine. Sexual activity, a good measure of health, is throes the roof in Cuba. The food, at least that which is produced in Cuba, is organic. Not to mention the climate and the fact that Cuba may be the safest country on the planet.

  • May 23, 2016 at 9:35 am
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    Couldn’t go wrong with modeling after Canada if envisioning a democracy for Cuba while also maintaining a semblance of socialism with universal healthcare. I’ve always thought that Canada could be a very good compromise and a sound source of inspiration for Cuba’s government when also transitioning to capitalism.

  • May 23, 2016 at 9:24 am
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    I continue to be skeptical of the Castros SELF-REPORTED health indices. Any comparative analysis must be taken lightly because of the lack of credibility in Cuban statistics.

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