Saturday January 29, 2022

Cuba to the rescue

April 25, 2020

While Bernie Sanders paid a political price for uttering something positive about Cuba’s literacy program, the current pandemic has shown the whole world the heroic side of Cuba’s health care system.

I saw this heroism firsthand when I worked with Cuban doctors in poor, remote villages in Africa. It was the 1970s and I was a young woman employed as a nutritionist with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. My colleagues were good people who were helping to feed hungry children. They also made hefty salaries and lived a wealthy lifestyle they could never afford back home. The Cubans were different. They lived simply, worked under the harshest conditions, and earned almost nothing for their services. Their motivation was purely to help people in need.

They called it internationalism and said it was their revolutionary duty to repay their debt to society. They quoted Che Guevara: “The life of a single human being is worth a million times more than all the property of the richest man on earth.”

I was inspired, and ended up moving to Cuba. Four years, a marriage, and a baby later, I was accused by the Cuban government of writing articles critical of the revolution and deported. Certainly, I saw and experienced aspects of the Cuban system I disliked, but I never lost my admiration for the country’s public health system and its commitment to international solidarity.

It is truly inspiring that this small, poor island has basic health indicators equal, or better, to those of the world’s richest countries. This is even more remarkable after it has faced a brutal US blockade and sanctions for sixty years. Cuba’s infant mortality rate of 4 per 1,000 live births is lower than in the United States – and that’s according to the CIA! There’s little food on the store shelves and shortages in the pharmacies, but, as Cubans say, “We live like poor people, but we die like rich people.” That’s because their life expectancy of seventy-nine years is the same as in the United States, despite the fact that Cuba spends less than about $800 per person per year on health care compared with $11,000 in the United States.

Like most of the world, Cuba is now grappling with coronavirus. As of April 20, there were 1,137 confirmed cases, with 38 deaths. But Cuba’s free and universal healthcare system, including a robust cadre of health professionals, puts the island in a better position to deal with this crisis than most countries. With its intense focus on training health professionals, Cuba has the highest density of physicians in the world. Its ratio of medical professionals to patients is roughly three times higher than in the United States.

Cuba not only trains its own doctors; it trains doctors from all over the world. The island of only 11 million people is home to the world’s largest international medical school, the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM). Since its founding in 1999, the school has trained over 35,000 young people from 138 countries, including the United States. And here’s the kicker: it’s free.

Excerpted from: 'Cuba to the Rescue, But Don’t Tell the AmericanPeople'.