Cuba has been afflicted with economic woes for decades due to trade embargoes and international isolation, because of its embrace of socialism and bonhomie with the Soviets during the cold war era. Not surprisingly, the country’s economy is in shambles today, with per capita GDP on par with that of countries like Botswana and Turkmenistan.
Despite the poverty, however, Cuba has a lot more to offer the world than those beloved Cuban cigars! One of the biggest takeaways for us would be from Cuba’s health care system. Yes, despite its depressed economy, the country has a highly successful public health care system that would put the United States’ health care system to shame.
Impact Of Poverty & Isolation On Health Care In Cuba
“Life-saving drugs and specialized medical care has been in poor supply, with Cuban surgeons even battling a scarcity of anesthesia – they turned to acupuncture for pain control”
Because of trade embargos that have been in force for decades, life-saving drugs and specialized medical care has been in poor supply, with Cuban surgeons even battling a scarcity of anesthesia. They resorted to using acupuncture to control pain during surgery. That just goes to show the extent of deprivation that the Cuban health care system had to deal with. But the public health crisis forced the country to find innovative methods of managing public health with its limited resources. Here’s what makes Cuban health care so successful.
“Health care is also funded by the government to ensure that everyone has equal access to the same quality of health care”
The country has a high doctor to patient ratio and the government uses central planning to make sure that medical professionals are evenly distributed across the country. The bulk of health care is also funded by the government to ensure that everyone has equal access to the same quality of health care. They have also rigorously enforced vaccination drives, giving Cuba one of the world’s highest childhood vaccination rates.
“As a result of improved awareness, sanitation, and public hygiene, there has been a decline in deaths and illness from infections”
In addition to measures aimed directly at improving health care, the government of Cuba recognized the importance of preventive health care. This shifted the focus to improving public awareness through education, while also providing improved housing and nutrition. Such measures help to bring down medical costs, while maintaining public health without the need for expensive drugs and specialized procedures that are not as accessible in poor countries. The According to Cuba’s national director of ambulatory care, Dr Cristina Luna, “We were conscious that prevention had to be a cornerstone of our system.” The WHO has recognized these efforts as being among the most successful in the world. As a result of improved awareness, sanitation, and public hygiene, there has been a long decline in deaths and illness from infections that commonly plague other poor countries.
Some of the benefits to Cuban health care are also accidental, as its stringent immigration policy has prevented a brain drain of medical talent, which is a huge problem for most poor and developing countries, including India. Cuba’s isolation has also forced them to become more self-reliant, investing heavily in biomedical research. So, how have all of these circumstances and efforts impacted Cuba’s health care system? Let’s find out.
How Cuba Fares In Comparison To Other Countries
Contrary to what one might expect from looking at Cuba’s economy and international isolation, her population is now recognized as among the world’s healthiest! The paradoxical existence of great health care in a poor population has been rather predictably termed the ‘Cuban Health Paradox’ and it’s a subject of immense interest to researchers, with one such study appearing in the Journal of Public Health Policy.
Life Expectancy In Cuba
One of the parameters of public health is life expectancy, and Cubans enjoy among the highest life expectancy, with the average being 79 years, dramatically higher than that in other countries with similar per capita GDP. For example, the average life expectancy in Turkmenistan is 65 years, while its 47 years in Botswana. Yes, the situation in Botswana may not be great, but Cuba even comes out on top when compared against its much richer neighbor the United States.
Child Mortality In Cuba
Despite its small economy, Cuba also fares incredibly well in terms of child health care, with a much lower mortality rate among children under 5 years. Child mortality rates for Cuba are at about 4.76 per 1,000 live births, as compared to 5.90 for the United States. To put it in perspective, the under 5 child mortality rates for India stand at 49 per 1,000 live births.
Traditionally, the quality of health care and the wellbeing of a population is correlated with wealth, but Cuba has shattered this myth. This makes it a subject of great interest to researchers and policy makers across the world, as Cuba offers a unique perspective into how to keep a country healthy. This is a good lesson for everyone who believes that healthcare is all about building hospitals and other infrastructure, while Cuba shows the world that a strong system of preventive health care is a prerequisite for a successful health care system.