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Cuban Health Care System: A Model for All?

Just last week, Cuba celebrated the 16th annual Havana Cigar Festival, despite the increase in anti-smoking measures around the world.

The festival, which began February 24, is the world’s premier cigar event, with more than 1,500 enthusiasts flocking to Cuba’s capital for the week. The annual occasion is meant to introduce tobacco specialists and cigar lovers to new cigars and how they can combine with haute cuisine. Among the events at the festival were visits to tobacco farms and factories, the launch of new cigar labels and visits to locally-grown tobacco markets.

The festival concluded on Friday with a real twist: a gala dinner and humidor auction, where $1.1 million was raised for Cuba’s public healthcare system.

The festival sparked much public interest into the current state of Cuban health care, often noted as a public health care model that could inform other developing countries.

Cuba’s health care system is a private-payer system managed by the government. Its focus is on prevention and community health, with 1,000 patients per physician in urban areas. Primary care is highly valued and physicians tend to live in the same communities as their patients.

Virtually all citizens of Cuba have been vaccinated and the life expectancy of 78 is almost identical to that of the United States. The infant mortality rate is lower than that of the U.S., with fewer than deaths per 1,000 births. The literacy rate is 99 percent and health education is a mandatory part of school curriculum.

These improved health outcomes are largely due to the fact that the healthcare system addresses immediate bio-medical concerns as well as the social determinants of health such as nutrition and education.

Despite these advances, there are still major problems occurring within Cuba’s health care system. The country is far from developed and lacks basic infrastructure needed to maintain a healthy population. Resources are limited, technology is at a minimum and the Internet is often hard to obtain.

Some of these obstacles are beginning to be addressed by the Cuban government. For example, resources have been invested in developing more advanced biotechnology at the level seen in countries such as the U.S.

With the help of the generous donation to Cuba’s health care system made Friday, people might see some of these advances in the near future.

– Mollie O’Brien

Sources: Daily Journal, Chicago Tribune, The New England Journal of Medicine
Photo: National Turk