When Cuba Sends Patients Abroad

Fernando Ravsberg*

Hilda and her mother.
Hilda and her mother, Alda, are deeply grateful to the Cuban and foreign medical doctors who treated the young girl.

HAVANA TIMES — When I wrote about Rafael’s illness, I became curious about the medical services that Cuban Public Health arranges for patients abroad. Following a rather arduous search, we found a teenager who had just been treated at a clinic in Europe. Below is her story.

Alda Soria’s world fell apart when she found out that her daughter’s illness could not be treated in Cuba because the country did not have the needed medical equipment. 17-year-old Hilda had multiple vascular ramifications in the right hemisphere of her brain, a condition that caused her splitting head-aches and was pushing one of her eyes out of its socket.

Alda is a nurse’s aide, a low income woman who could not afford to pay for medical treatment abroad. Specialists at Havana’s neurology hospital calmed her explaining that there was an option available to her: they would recommend that Hilda undergo an operation in Europe.

A short time later, a Ministry of Public Health commission approved the procedure and some 60 thousand euros were destined to the surgery, air tickets for Hilda and her mother, hotel expenses for the mother and transportation. “Ultimately, my daughter’s treatment cost 26 thousand euros, so the remainder of the money was reassigned to a Cuban being treated for spinal cancer at a clinic in the same country. They’ve already spent 200 thousand euros on his treatment,” Alda explained to us.

Hilda’s case is no exception, former Cuban ambassador in Spain Alejandro Gonzalez reminds us. “I know about this well because, during my stay in Europe, we paid for the treatment of Cuban patients in different countries, up to 70, 80 and even 100 thousand euros.” Gonzalez recalls that “when kidney transplants weren’t being done in Cuba, a two-year stay abroad for the patient and a companion was paid for.”

Hilda and firends. She is again leading a normal life and will go back to school in Cuba next year.

Alda agreed to the interview on the condition that we did not mention the country or clinic where her daughter was treated. “They’re good people who charge very little because they sympathize with Cuba and, if we mention them, smear campaigns against them will start.” She also told us that Cuban patients are sent everywhere around the world. “While waiting for my trip, I came across a little girl that was going to be treated in the United States, and another one they were sending to Italy.”

“When a case like my daughter’s turns up, they start looking for a clinic anywhere in the world that has the technology needed to treat the patient. Then, they have to find one among these whose medical doctors are willing to take on a case that has already been treated by physicians from a different part of the world. It isn’t easy,” Alda told us.

Despite this, Hilda was being treated at one of the best clinics in Europe within four short months. There, the procedure was so successful she didn’t even need radio-surgery afterwards. The mother told us the treatment she received was marvelous. “The doctor asked me and my daughter what we expected from the surgery. I said I wanted my daughter’s wellbeing. My girl replied she wanted to look pretty. After the procedure, we found out they had also done a bit of plastic surgery to erase all traces of her condition.”

They returned to Cuba in August this year. Hilda is still recovering from the surgery, but she will be able to resume her studies in the next school year. She has been reborn, but she regards the entire process as something normal. For Cuba’s teenagers and youth, receiving medical attention free of charge, no matter how costly the procedure, is not something extraordinary – it is something they are entitled to from the moment of conception. Alda, incidentally, works at a pregnancy home, where expecting mothers are admitted when any complication arises.

Hilda’s mother cannot help but shed tears when she thanks Cuban Public Health authorities and the foreign doctors who treated her daughter. She knows she would never have been able to put together the money needed for her daughter’s operation and that this would have surely meant her death.

She regains her smile when I ask her if they’re related to any higher-up in the country. She spreads her arms so as to direct my attention to her humble apartment and its old furniture. “I have no important relatives, not even acquaintances. I am even a single mother. I didn’t have to pull any strings. The doctors who treated Hilda in Cuba were the ones who arranged everything. That’s how things work here.”
(*) Visit Fernando Ravsberg’s blog.

5 thoughts on “When Cuba Sends Patients Abroad

  • All totalitarian countries uses to give free health care to people in other countries as a propaganda way to make people to believe their totalitarian and criminal systems are good…… other Cubans living outside Cuba develops similar helping programs in poor countries in Asia or Africa or Latin America but don’t use it as propaganda, so, only few people know about their work.
    To deny that the health system that castro regimen presents as own creation was in reality a creation of the Cuban people before 1959 is much more dishonest.

  • Freudiviry should talk to the thousands of people who have received free surgery for cataracts in Honduras and Venezuela, I met two. Nobody is dying of hunger in Cuba, he should visit the Dominican Republic and go to one of the barrios and see the distended stomachs of the kids…..oh, and no medical health care. To deny that Cuba has a better system than most of Latin America is dishonest.

  • Sorry Chuck…… your views are not different of mine….. you simply are writing about something completely different to what I wrote about.
    Any way I would like to comment your views:

    Cubans pays 98% of the salaries they should earn in taxes what left them with an average salary of $15 / month, only “enough” for 4 days of food….. so…… to say the health care in Cuba is free of charges is “inaccurate”…… by the way….. the health and educational system that castro regimen pretends to show as own creation were created in the 50 first years of Cuba’s independent history…… castro inherited it in 1959 and just started a huge propaganda campaign to present them as own…… so….. when you visited Cuba in the 60 you knew a brand new health system built before 1959 …….today that health system is destroyed.
    Finally …… I do not attempt to demean the effort made by castro regime to keep going that inherited health system but what I did was to point the reasons why not all children with extreme health condition receive same benefits in actual Cuba.
    Actual Cuba is well different to what you knew in the 60s……. that Cuba in your memories (rich, brand new, fine and shining) was destroyed by 55 years of disastrous economical and political dictatorship.

  • My experience in this matter is completely different than the views expressed by Freudiviry. Even today, in the present financial predicament affecting Cuba, patients requiring medical upgrading, are transported in a local ambulance from the municipality to the Provincial or National Hospital, free of charge.

    Frequently upon arrival to their destination, the social service department of the healthcare facility, will try to secure lodging and meals for the person accompanying the sick.

    In the mid sixties, I fire broke out across the street of the student building on 12 st. and Malecon. Many students rush over to help, when a gas explosion engulfed the apartment. 4 Students died and 7 or 8 others suffered severe burns. One or two of the most seriously injured were flown to Moscow for treatment at no cost to their families.

    In that period, the manager of the female student building on I st and Linea suffered from a rare cancer, which was untreatable in Cuba. She was sent for treatment to England with her husband, where they stayed for nearly a year. Travel, lodging, meals, hospital fee and other associated expenses were covered by the Ministry of Health.

    It is therefore cruel and wrong, for anyone to demand or attempt to demean what Cuba has done historically for all of its patients, without ever questioning his race, age, sex, political or religious beliefs.

  • In the first article of this saga Fernando uncovered that Cuba’s regime has a very limited budget for helping children with such severe health conditions. Once this budget reaches the maximum in a year no more children gets help to travel to another country and get medical assistance. Now Fernando brings another article showing one of the cases covered by that limited budget. What Fernando fails to uncover is that this budget could be and should be unlimited just bringing back all moneys that the clans castro-soto-del-valle and castro-espin took out Cuba’s national treasure to make personal investments.
    By the way…… this is a very infantile pretext to not give a credible source for this history:

    “Alda agreed to the interview on the condition that we did not mention the country or clinic where her daughter was treated. “They’re good people who charge very little because they sympathize with Cuba and, if we mention them, smear campaigns against them will start.””

    Come on Fernando…. you can better.

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