By Pedro Pablo Morejon
HAVANA TIMES – The country has recently suffered a new surge in COVID-19 cases, and it’s fair to say that, in spite of its initial delay, the Government has implemented (as much as possible) the measures needed to stop this disease. If we are in this situation today, it’s because of how highly infectious this virus is.
Thinking about the possible consequences of a spike in infections, I have also got to thinking about Cuba’s health system.
There’s no doubt that our country has made breakthroughs in terms of public health. I could mention a few of them:
Universal access to free healthcare.
It is the first country to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
Mass vaccination campaigns managing to immunize the population against various diseases.
Manufacturing important medicines such as Heberprot to treat diabetic foot or the vaccine for preventing meningococcal disease.
Having thousands of health professionals with the ability to sell their services in different countries.
Reducing infant mortality rates to levels similar in the so-called First World.
I believe the above are the most important achievements made by the Cuban health system, in the past six decades. However, it presents a series of nuisances that make me think that this whole business about Cuban being a global medical power isn’t quite true.
Any sane person can tell you the poor state many healthcare facilities are in.
The only time I had to go under the knife was back in 2007. I was admitted into the Abel Santamaria Hospital, the most modern one in my province. I had to have keyhole surgery for kidney stones.
At the time, there were water shortages so hygiene conditions weren’t the best. Plus, only two operating rooms were working out of the five: The emergency operating room and one other. I remember that experts had to fight hard with the ward managers to operate their patients.
Recently, a friend had to go to another health center and told me about the bad state it was in.
I have a nurse friend who admitted that she stressed a lot of the time, having to go to another room just for a simple thermometer for a patient, with the additional headache that she can’t tell the patient that they don’t have X medicine or machine.
Medicine shortages in Cuba is another ill that has become chronic, and to make matters worse, cases of corruption have come to light of officials who divert medicines to the illicit market, which continues in spite of government efforts to tackle it, amidst this crisis.
As if that wasn’t enough, there are international drugstores where foreigners can buy any medicine they need in hard currency, the kind of medicines that can’t be found in regular drugstores for Cubans.
Such is the case with clinics and hospitals for foreigners which are equipped with state-of-the-art technology and all the necessary logistics to take care of foreigners, who just because they have a handful of dollars or euros are able to enjoy such privileges.
These two realities are a real apartheid.
I also have to mention the fact that the revolutionary elite (in Cuban slang: pinchos, mayimbes) go to the best clinics and hospitals, which I mentioned before or CIMEQ, which is a gem in the Cuban health system, and isn’t available for ordinary Cubans as we well know.
I must also say that any regular Cuban could die if they needed emergency medical assistance. There is a shortage of ambulances. In fact, the reality is that many people have died in such cases.
Last but not least, there is a shortage of medical specialists in Cuba today. Many can be found far away providing services for which they only receive a small sum, they are just cheap labor for filling the coffers of others. Although the current international crisis has seriously hurt this business.
All in all: There is no doubt that in terms of healthcare, Cuba is well above the average of other poor countries called “developing nations”. Especially with its universal and free healthcare, which in my opinion, is maybe the only social achievement of our Marxist State in the past six decades.
But beyond the propaganda, we can’t sidestep the fact that there are many dark holes in the Cuban health system, some of which are an insult to Cubans’ dignity.
So, is Cuba a medical power?