The Sad State of Health Care in Cuba for 2024

Photo: El Toque

By El Toque

HAVANA TIMES – Jose Angel Portal Miranda, Cuba’s Minister of Public Health, described 2023 as one of the most difficult years for the healthcare system. The minister publicly acknowledged the systemic crisis in the sector and called for the revitalization of healthcare in the country.

“There are deficiencies in the organization of services, as well as in the management of key processes for primary and secondary care. This generates dissatisfaction,” stated Portal Miranda. He added that the quality of service at health institutions is low. He announced that shortages of supplies will continue, leading to “constantly rearranging activities.”

The Exodus

Portal stated that the migration of health personnel both abroad and to other sectors of the national economy was a reality. He urged addressing issues affecting the quality of teaching “and [having an impact] on the training of future professionals, which inevitably [affected] the quality of services.”

Public Health officials acknowledged in October 2023 the exodus of over 8,000 undergraduate students, more than 5,000 postgraduate students, and over 1,400 faculty members from medical schools.  

The decline of the Cuban healthcare system has only worsened. In 2022, there were 46,000 fewer workers compared to the previous year, according to data from the Statistical Yearbook on Health and Social Assistance. The breakdown of the figures indicates that between 2021 and 2022, Cuba lost more than 12,000 doctors, 7,414 nurses, and over 3,000 dentists.

The most probable causes of abandonment include migration to other countries, low salaries, a shortage of basic supplies, rumors of a possible prohibition for healthcare workers to travel, and increased work hours due to unfilled vacancies.

Lisset Castaigne, a pediatric intensivist, is an example of professionals seeking work in a different area than healthcare. “I am passionate about a child’s smile, but I cannot save lives when my salary is not enough to buy food or anything basic; not to mention that you work miracles with almost nothing,” she explained to El Toque.

Although the Ministry of Public Health took measures to alleviate the situation caused by the lack of professionals (authorizing moonlighting and payment for overtime), recent statements by the minister of health confirm that the downward trend in healthcare personnel has continued in recent months.

Shortages and Abandonment

Between 2010 and 2022, 63 hospitals, 37 family doctor’s offices, 187 maternity homes, and 45 dentistry clinics closed, according to data from the National Statistics and Information Office.

Likewise, most of the 13,454 healthcare units in the country show signs of neglect. Patient testimonies report inefficient electrical and air conditioning systems, walls with mold and leaks, overcrowded rooms, poor nutrition, the presence of insects (cockroaches, bedbugs, and mosquitoes), inadequate ventilation, a shortage of drinking water, and a lack of ambulances.

In mid-2023, Ailuj Casanova Barreto, Head of the Department of Primary Health Care, reported that 1,626 doctor’s offices did not receive running water; of these, only 65 had resolved the situation. She also explained that 3,314 family care centers were in a regular or poor state of construction.

The shortage of resources, equipment, supplies, and medicines is acknowledged by Portal as a cause of population dissatisfaction. He warned that it will continue in 2024 and has led to citizen complaints and protests in recent months, along with several requests for humanitarian visas.

In late November 2023, the protest of several mothers in front of the Ministry of Public Health in Havana came to light. Holding their children’s medical records, the women demanded a better quality of life and a humanitarian visa for them to be treated abroad.

The most recent case of a violation of the right to health in Cuba is that of Amanda Lemus Ortiz. The 2-year-old girl has been waiting for a liver transplant for over 12 months, which her father is willing to donate. However, according to activists and family members, the “William Soler” Pediatric Hospital lacks the necessary resources to perform the operation and refuses to use supplies that her family can provide.

The Cuban government is trying to alleviate the current shortage of medical supplies through donations from abroad. On January 28, 2024, the “William Soler” Pediatric Hospital and the Institute of Gastroenterology received donations from the organizations Puentes de Amor and Code Pink. During 2023, the healthcare system in Santiago de Cuba received 96 donations — ambulances and neonatology equipment — arranged with the support of solidarity groups from Spain. International organizations (World Health Organization, Pan American Health Organization, United Nations Development Program, and UNICEF) who have also made recent donations to the Cuban healthcare system.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.

4 thoughts on “The Sad State of Health Care in Cuba for 2024

  • Cuba has not got enough medical supplies as the country is out of money
    Foreign people from ont Canada used to come here for medical and dental care
    A non profit Huron EasyShare had over 20 people from Cuba that were nurses P SWs and other health care providers and mechanics offer to volunteer for 3 months to provide medical services and to help fix up 2 homeless shelters in Ontario. The Ford gov in ont told the fed despite several closed ERs in Lisa Thompson riding that these people were not needed in Huron County. They had agreed to volunteer 3 months for free to help out those that were disabled or living in tents. In return the Non profit had agreed to pay for their airplane fare provide them with housing in a camper trailer or a house plus a new bike each a used fridge and 70 lbs of medical equipment each and supplies
    The gov of Cuba pushed for a cash payment for each of the nurses coming but said we could bring in less skilled people like a couple of mechanics that did not graduate as nurses
    In ont we have a huge housing shortage with P SWs living in minivans. We have to put pressure ont the ont gov to replace temp agencies health care workers with those from cuba through non profit
    A large co op is offering to donate a 40 ft container full of wheat reject beans and milk powder if we could get 4 doctors and 8 nurses for 6 months and the Ont gov blocked it not the gov of Cuba. Over 12 000 people have expired in 2022 because long waits for health care or issues like myself getting froze a yr ago in ont. [email protected]

  • Compare Canada to Cuba’s medical situation by pundits overlooks one key factor. Cuba is experiencing massive exodus of healthcare workers while Canada, unlike Cuba, has over loaded the health system by taking millions of immigrants. Canada’s housing market and medical system is suffering because too many ‘new’ immigrants loaded into a support system that simply cannot sustain the economic weight. Integrating immigrants into Canada’s work force requires the new comers to learn the language whether French or English so they can work, study and become self-supportive. In Canada right to self-determination for humans is a fundamental principle while is totally opposite in Cuba.

    Clearly, opinions may vary but just because there exists general similarities between Cuba and Canada doesn’t mean they are the same in terms of human rights: when have heard Canadians migrating to Cuba, Venezuela, Russia, or China? It is totally reverse, millions migrating from dictatorships for democratic countries that offer hope and an opportunity to a better life! You find hopelessness and tyranny in Cuba and 60 years of bad governing: why do think millions have and will leave given the chance?!
    Canada can simply help educated immigrants learn to speak French or English it would be a huge benefit to have migrating doctors and nurses added to the social support system and a bonus that they speaks two languages! Do not see any programs like this in Cuba. Do you?

  • In Canada, like Cuba, doctors are not allowed to practice outside the medical system. The wait times at the emergency department at my local hospital often exceeds 8 hours. The alternative to waiting for health care in Canada, is to seek health care in the US.

  • The state of Cuba’s healthcare system is certainly in crisis no doubt about that. Not only are skilled physicians and other much needed health care professionals fleeing the country for a variety of legitimate reason, but also medical facilities do not have the necessary equipment to provide the health care Cubans require. Certainly sad.

    Not to downplay the crisis situation in Cuba, the Canadian health care system, to provide some perspective, is also in a dire situation. Health care in Canada is a provincial responsibility. Many Canadians no matter what province they reside do not have a family physician or access to health care provider.

    Ontario is a perfect example of this crisis situation.

    “The Ontario Medical Association says there are 2.3 million Ontarians without a primary care doctor, a number that has grown significantly in recent years.

    That number is expected to double in just two years, said Dr. Andrew Park, the association’s president”.(CTV News, The Canadian Press, February 1, 2024.)

    Furthermore, hospital emergency rooms are over stressed as people with an illness will go directly to the hospital since they do not have a family doctor and hope to be treated in the Emergency department. There many patients with critical conditions must wait in hallways for hours and hours sometimes even days hoping a physician can attend to their physical and/or mental health issues. Sad situation indeed.

    I juxtaposition a health care crisis in 2024 in communist totalitarian Cuba with a health care crisis in liberal, democratic capitalist Canada. A very sad situation for Cubans and Canadians who expect better from their governments.

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