The Success of Healthcare in Cuba

Health Care in Cuba

Due to the dwindling trade restrictions between Cuba and the United States during the Obama administration, people around the world are getting a look into a country that has been closed off from much of the world for many years. While the country is known for its slow wealth creation and high levels of state control, healthcare in Cuba has made massive strides since the country’s revolution in 1959.

Cuba’s healthcare is recognized as being among the world’s most efficient and high quality systems. Former United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated that the country’s healthcare system should be used as a model for many developing countries.

Since the 1959 revolution, when Fidel Castro gained power in Cuba, the socialist ideology emphasized that access to healthcare is a fundamental human right. With this belief inscribed in Cuba’s constitution, the country focuses on preventative approaches to medicine. From providing annual, mandatory checkups to the most complex surgeries, healthcare in Cuba remains free of charge.

With this high level of accessibility, the country has made many health improvements since the beginning of the Castro regime. These include:

  • A 98 percent full immunization record by the age of 2 that protect children from 13 illnesses.
  • Low infant mortality rates. Cuba’s rate is extremely close to that of the United States’ with less than 5 deaths per 1000 births. This statistic makes Cuba the best performer in the developing world.
  • High life expectancies, with men living an average of 77 years and women living an average of 81. These expectancies are almost identical to those in the United States.
  • Record doctor to patient ratios that surpass many developed nations. Every doctor cares for around 150 patients.
  • A well-educated public regarding individual health. Family doctors, who make mandatory visits annually, discuss issues such as smoking, eating and exercising with patients while also providing tailored recommendations to remain healthy.
  • World leading medical schools. Former U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated that Cuba’s medical education system is the world’s most advanced. In 2014, over 11,000 students from over 120 nations pursued a career in medicine at the Cuban Institution.
  • A significant focus on research and development. The focus on innovation has been attributed to the U.S. embargo that prohibited trade in medicines for Cuba. This made investing in medical sciences a necessity to provide quality health care.

By the mid-1980s, Cuba developed the world’s first Meningitis B vaccine. In 2012, Cuban doctors developed Cimavax, the first therapeutic cancer vaccine. Additionally, The World Health Organization (WHO) recognized the country as being the first to eliminate HIV transmission between mothers and their children in 2015. These outcomes are found to be a direct result of the huge investments made in Cuba’s biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries.

Healthcare in Cuba has benefited more than just the citizens of its country. Every year, Cuba sends around 50,000 health professionals abroad, providing care to developing countries. In only one decade, Cuba’s contribution to Mission Miracle, a program supporting people with sight impairments, has restored around 3.5 million individuals’ vision. Many of these contributions are made in Latin America, where 165 Cuban institutions maintain 49 ophthalmological centers and 82 surgical units in 14 countries.

However, Cuba’s support reaches beyond its own continent and into Africa. The Cuban chemical and biopharmaceutical research institute LABIOFAM launched a vaccination campaign against malaria in 2014 in more than 15 West African nations. Additionally, during the recent Sierra Leone Ebola crisis, over 100 Cuban doctors and nurses were of assistance.

Castro was an advocate for providing international health support, as he believed by assisting developing countries, Cuba was preventing the expansion of epidemics that could spread to its own nation if not handled correctly. In addition to the philanthropy aspect, Cuban doctors and nurses working in over 77 countries generate $8 billion a year, which makes international health services the country’s largest export.

While the country’s GDP per capita is ranked 137th in the world, healthcare in Cuba has demonstrated that a poor country can create dramatic developments in its population’s quality of life for the long term. Castro’s form of leadership, while questioned in many other areas, has improved the living standards for Cuba’s poorest with regard to medical needs.

The WHO stresses that Cuba provides a prime example of a developing nation with limited resources that can provide an efficient health care system to all of its population. However, for such an outcome, the political institutions of the country must make human beings the center of their policies and not their own wallets.

Tess Hinteregger
Photo: Flickr