The Importance of Good Statistical Data in Cuba

Graham Sowa

One benefit of Cuba’s very centralized bureaucracy is the prevalence of statistical data on just about anything at any level of government. This extends from the Federal level to the neighborhood Committee of the Defense of the Revolution.

Good statistical data in Cuba is what makes the state controlled economy function as it does. With precise and accurate data policy makers and workers are supposed to be able to make better decisions. Obviously this is not always the case; as reality does not always reflect the numbers, or vice versa.

But reflecting reality or not, everything from chicken feed to medical services is surrounded by statistics in Cuba. It is not uncommon to walk into the waiting room of a neighborhood clinic and see a poster on the wall with the number of patients who are sick; and with what disease, the number of women currently pregnant; or breastfeeding, and the number of accidents in the past six months.

In fact, it is not uncommon to walk into any workplace or office and see that same type of poster showing data reflecting on whatever that particular place does.

I first noticed how the necessity for statistical data has shaped parts of Cuban culture when I began meeting Cuban university students. It seemed like at least half of the people I met were studying something called “informática”. I learned that informática is a general term that surrounds all of statistics and its applications on the island.

One of the largest and best equipped universities in Cuba is the University of Information Sciences (UCI) just outside of La Habana. The UCI is supposed to create the generation of statisticians that will transition Cuban book keeping from hand written ledgers and scraps of paper to a digital format.

This semester my medical studies brought me closer to the Cuban statistical system through a class called bioestatísticas (biostatistics). Part epidemiology and part informática, the class has been answering questions for me on how the government manages its massive medical system.

I´ve even found some uncommon common ground between the United States and Cuba when it comes to medical care: the large number of older adults that will be reaching retirement age who will be guaranteed medical care under each countries respective medical system.

In the United States the population boom came after the end of the Second World War. Cuba had a similar population boom after the triumph of the Revolution.

The difference between the two situations is that Cuba has another 10-20 years before their post Revolution baby-boomers reach old age. Obviously there will be a large increase in medical need and expenditure.

To deal with a similar problem on the other side of the Straits of Florida the United States passed a health care reform bill.

But the health care reform didn´t come close to achieving the reduction in cost and increase of services that it needed to. Additionally, the contentious political atmosphere that the bill created was a key impetus in the formation of what are now increasingly vocal activist groups on the right and the left.

Now Cuba has between 10 and 20 years before they will face a similar problem. It seems like some of the changes to open the economy to private enterprise and long term loans of land to foreign entities might be driven by the obvious dilemma the Cuban economy will face with a large increase in the population of the elderly.

Other solutions will probably involve making travel for Cubans easier; with the hope that some of the older population will choose to immigrate and pass their golden years living with family abroad. For those that stay in Cuba the State will count on hard currency remittances sent by relatives working outside the country. This inversion of capital will put money back into the same economy that also pays for their medical care.

It can be assured that any and all solutions to the problem will be based on the huge pool of data surrounding the Cuban medical system and the informática infrastructure. It seems that good data is more important than ever and there will be little room for error or corruption.