Cuba Updates its Health Care System

Elio Delgado Legón

Doctor and patient. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — Boasting health statistics above all other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (and even the United States), Cuba’s healthcare system has achieved world recognition and been endorsed by the World and Pan-American Health Organizations and the United Nations.

That said, a number of issues continue to cause dissatisfaction among the population, and the Ministry of Public Health has undertaken a process aimed at improving and updating the sector.

As is well known, Cuba’s healthcare system is universal, free and comprehensive. In addition to offering medical care to all citizens living in cities or the countryside, without distinction, it is also moved by internationalist tenets, as expressed by Article 50 of the Constitution and Public Health Law 41.

Since 2010, as part of the process aimed at updating Cuba’s economic model and in compliance with the guidelines issued at the 6th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, Cuba’s public health system has been undergoing changes with a view to improving medical services and bettering work conditions for health personnel, as well as bringing more comfort to patients and their families and making the system more efficient and sustainable.

One of the tasks undertaken as part of this process was the restructuring and repair of family neighborhood clinics, so that these may again offer the medical services they were designed for. In many places, these clinics were not operating as planned – that is to say, doctors were not residing in the doctor’s office and seeing patients when they needed attention.

In 2013 alone, 3,168 health facilities underwent some kind of repairs or maintenance work nationwide.

According to information recently made public by high public health officials, the changes currently being implemented are simply part of the process begun in 2010, and efforts continue to be devoted to the restructuring of services, making more efficient use of human and technological resources and to the country’s mutual assistance network, responsible for referring the patient to the care facility where his problem can be solved without the intervention of any other factor.

The main results of these efforts that were made public are:

– The country’s 451 polyclinics and their health services continue to be operational and concerted efforts are being devoted to guaranteeing their proper functioning – suspending any service or having inoperative diagnostic equipment must become something out of the ordinary.

– Cuba’s 11,400 doctor’s offices, with an average doctor/population average of 1,040 residents, will continue to offer health coverage around the country. “Now, we have to make sure they work well, that is, that they can address most of the health problems the population has. We have to have both the doctor and the nurse working there and we have to continue improving their working conditions, so that the people become convinced that they can receive qualified and appropriate medical attention at that primary level of healthcare.”

– Specialists (clinical doctors, pediatricians, obstetricians, psychologists and other) are being called on to become more involved in consultations and asked to monitor all care, educational, administrative and research processes.

– A total of 733 doctors and 230 nurses have had their residences repaired, such that they can again serve their community from home where they are more aware of the local health problems.

Significant investments are also being destined to repairing hospitals and their equipment, in order to meet the needs of the population that must resort to that level of health care.

New geriatric care facilities have been opened to meet the needs of the 18.3 percent of the population that is now elderly. The country has 126 homes for the elderly, with a total of 9,590 beds. Authorities are working to open new homes that will add 710 beds to current capacities.

In terms of rehabilitation services, two million more patient sessions took place than in 2013 than the previous year, for a total of 15 million in the year.

I have tried to offer readers a panoramic view of the work being carried out within Cuba’s healthcare system to improve services at home and continue gaining in prestige abroad, where Cuban doctors work in more than 60 countries, without affecting the services back home.

As I said at the beginning, a certain degree of dissatisfaction may still exist, but this will gradually disappear as we make more progress in our efforts to update and perfect the country’s health system.

Elio Delgado Legon

Elio Delgado-Legon: I am a Cuban who has lived for 80 years, therefore I know full well how life was before the revolution, having experienced it directly and indirectly. As a result, it hurts me to read so many aspersions cast upon a government that fights tooth and nail to provide us a better life. If it hasn’t fully been able to do so, this is because of the many obstacles that have been put in its way.


14 thoughts on “Cuba Updates its Health Care System

  • April 12, 2014 at 7:28 am
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    Partisan anti-Cuban media? That would be Granma. You can’t get any more partisan and anti-Cuban than that.

  • April 11, 2014 at 6:58 am
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    Strangely enough the media you revile tell us exactly what we know from our friends and relatives in Cuba.
    I guess one should say “don’t trust the partisan anti-Cuban people Castro apologists”.

  • April 11, 2014 at 6:56 am
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    Reality in Cuba is very simple: the health service is a sham.
    People have to bring food, sheets, ventilators, … to people in hospitals.
    Toilets are backed up. Medicines are in short supply. Equipments are lacking or not working. Doctors demanding “gifts”.
    That is reality in Cuba.

  • April 11, 2014 at 6:46 am
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    No one is denied medical care in the US. Because of high costs, there are circumstances of ‘self-denial’. But anyone who shows up at the emergency room will receive the appropriate care. In Cuba, closed or inadequately-equipped facilities serve to deny services. It is a reach at best to claim services are improving in Cuba when most facilities are thrilled just to receive a fresh coat of paint or new fluorescent bulbs.

  • April 11, 2014 at 6:40 am
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    Anti-Castro is not the same as anti-Cuban. Perhaps you are confusing the two.

  • April 10, 2014 at 4:38 pm
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    Who is denied medical services? Indeed it is Cuba who must endure sub standard care. And the many who risk their lives to flee this wonderful care, why do they do so?

  • April 10, 2014 at 4:36 pm
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    Oh? Show us where it is wrong then?

  • April 10, 2014 at 2:59 pm
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    Don’t trust this partisan anti Cuban media.

  • April 10, 2014 at 2:57 pm
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    I am glad they continue improving while in the USA GOP deny medical services (which the Federal government would pay entirely) to millions of US citizens!

  • April 10, 2014 at 9:08 am
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    If by update you mean deteriorate even more you might be right. As it stands you are totally wrong.

    Cuba may be boasting a lot of things using its “statistics”, but international experts that went to Cuba and local doctors that fled Cuba confirmed Cua’s health “statistics” are manipulated for political purposes and are highly questionable to say the least.

    The “dissatisfaction” among the people with the Cuba health service has existed since before the special period. A report of the communist party from 1987 reporting a poll made by the communist party in Holguin (the famous “Boletin Especial” of which a verbatim copy was published by CANF) revealed that out of 10,756 polled 87.6 were unfavorable “an increase of 3% on the previous year. The “medicos de la familia” were the best rated “only” 64.9% unfavorable.
    (Also quoted in Maurice Halperin, Return to Havana, Vanderbilt University
    Press, Nashville, 1994, p.125-126.)
    Since then Cuba had the “special period” starving the Cuban people of medicines and the hospitals of equipment. The “rent a doctor” scheme made the problem worse by depleting Cuba of medical specialists and even family doctors (over a third of their stations were closed).
    The latest round of savings on maintenance staff will make the situation even worse.

    Cuba’s health service for Cubans is rapidly becoming a real disaster. That are the facts.

  • April 10, 2014 at 5:57 am
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    “733 doctors and 230 nurses have had their residences repaired, such that they can again serve their community …” what condition must these homes have been in that they would need “fixing up”; doctors homes no less. …..Oh yeah, that’s right, I forgot.

  • April 9, 2014 at 8:14 pm
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    ¡Dios mío, Elio!

    Everybody knows by now that the official published statistics are pure fiction from the Cuban government propaganda department. Standards of care in Cuba’s medical services have fallen terribly over the past two decades.

    By the way, before boasting of all the expanded and improved services, you might have checked with your political masters before you submitted this embarrassing bit of propaganda:

    “Cuba slashes more than 100,000 health care jobs”

    http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/national_world/2014/04/07/0407-Cuba-slashes-more-than-100000-health-care-jobs.html

    Oops. That’s got to hurt, eh? Your minders have set you up as a sap, or as they say in Cuba, a comemierda.

  • April 9, 2014 at 2:26 pm
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    Elio this is your worst posting yet. It is almost complete bullshit. Polyclinicos are closing everywhere. The few remaining open are offering fewer services, fewer hours with fewer staff and fewer supplies. Senior care is a disaster. Doctors, even with the paltry increase in salaries are more disillusioned than ever. Would I still rather be sick in Cuba, than in, say Haiti, for example? Well yes, barely. But if being better than Haiti is goal, then Elio should be proud. But if modern, hygienic, and dependable health care delivery is the goal, then Cuba still has a ways to go.

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