How People in Cuba Get Sick

Erasmo Calzadilla

HAVANA TIMES — Today, let’s talk about morbidity rates in Cuba. Why do people get sick? How have morbidity rates changed in recent years?

The Cuban Public Health System experienced a change for the positive since the Revolution triumphed. Over the span of a few decades, deadly, infectious diseases had been erradicated, reduced or controlled, thanks to the efforts and resources we have now which are dedicated to fighting them. This first-world trend continues even today; there’s no surprise there.

However, other deadly diseases are beginning to spread; the most distressing of all: cancer.

Chart 1 Cancer rate in the Cuban population
Cancer rate in the Cuban population per 100,000 inhabitants

Since 2009, cancer incidence statistics have skyrocketed in our country. Especially cases of skin cancer, which has slowly been climbing the ladder to now take first place… It isn’t the deadliest but it’s still a great health concern.

The difference between cancer rates since 2007 until today
Men: The difference between cancer rates since 2007 until today.  Skin, prostate, bronchial and lung.     Women: skin, breast, bronchial/lung and uterine

Public awareness about this disease

In order to write this post, I casually sounded out about a dozen well-informed people; none of them knew about our “little problem” with skin cancer.

In certain countries – such as in the sunny states of the USA, for example – some newspapers publish the Solar UV Index as another service of the weather forecast. There are laws in effect which prohibit school activities outside in the heat of the day, and some summer spots are making it a habit to give out free sunblock. Because it’s a lot cheaper and better for your health to take precautions than face an epidemic disease, anyone can tell you that.

Anyone except the Cuban health authorities. Warnings, if there are any, are scarce; and producing sunblock (let alone giving it out for free) isn’t amongst the pharmaceutical or cosmetic companies’ priorities. Why do they have this indifferent and ridiculous attitude? To be honest, I can’t get my head around it.

Cervical cancer (CCU)

The second type of cancer with the highest annual growth rate (we’re talking about cases) is breast cancer, and following behind in third place, is cervical cancer.

In the first few decades of the Revolution, cervical cancer was controlled thanks to a massive campaign and free pap smears. However, something is happening nowadays to make incidence and mortality rates increase steadily. We’re still a long way off pre-Revolution rates but the pace at which it continues to increase today is alarming.

Cervical cancer incidence and mortality rates
Cervical cancer incidence and mortality rates.

According to official statistics, the number of women who go for their pap smear remains the same. However, over time, cases of cervical cancer are now normally only detected in its more advanced stages, which makes treating the disease all the more difficult.

Stage at which cervical cancer is diagnosed.
Stage at which cervical cancer is diagnosed.

Why is that? Again, I don’t know. Either cervical cancer has become more aggressive; or the test is no longer reliable, giving a higher number of false negatives, or more and more women aren’t going to their pap smears when they should.

Illustration by Carlos
Illustration by Carlos


Dengue? In Cuba?

Before exploring this subject, I want to point out that the morbidity statistics cited here come from the Annual Health Report which is three years out of date; the last report was published in 2012. For some strategic reason – I suspect it has something to do with not scaring off tourism – the Ministry of Health hasn’t revealed more recent figures.

Dengue has been giving hospitals a lot of work filling up the facilities to capacity long before 2012. However, the Ministry of Health’s official report doesn’t mention anything about this epidemic. Not once, in its 208 pages, do the words “dengue” or “chikungunya” appear. This is an embarrassing mark on its credibility in a work which, on the other hand, seems to be quite serious.


  • Data is taken from the Annual Health Report, updated in 2015
  • The increase in skin cancer cases has nothing to do with climate change or global warming.

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.

4 thoughts on “How People in Cuba Get Sick

  • Cuba has one of the most accessible health care systems in the world but it is far from the best.

  • I was amazed at the price of cigarettes…so cheap… and everyone smokes in your country. Do they not get educated on the perils of smoking causing lung cancer? The price of a packet of cigarettes when I was in Cuba – 65 – in New Zealand 1 packet is $32 or US$22
    The high price is to try and stop people from smoking.
    Cuba has one of the best health care systems in the world but they need to educate their people. I cannot understand the illogical.

  • I take it that the government are responsible for compiling and publishing these figures, and surpressing all details that might put off tourists from visiting Cuba. Visitors have to believe that their health whilst in Cuba is not in any danger.

  • It would be interesting to compare Cuban statistics on the incidence of cancer, with those of other countries. (It’s a commonplace to note that as longevity increases, so does the proportion of deaths by cancer, given that cancer is concentrated amongst the old. Does this play any role in the Cuban statistics.)

    As for warnings about exposure to the sun (as opposed to providing sunblock, which is an expense), surely there should be an informal campaign to get the authorities to take notice of this — assuming that we’re sure it could help. It’s not a political issue, and it wouldn’t cost anything to do it.

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