Cuba lauded for one of the best health systems in the world
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It is no small feat that Cuba, impoverished for 60 years due to the US economic embargo, has one of the best health systems in the world, with more impressive health indicators than those of the US and many other developed countries. Cuba’s success is largely due to its unrelenting commitment to prevention and community oriented primary health care.
Cuba has one of the highest ratios of doctors in the world, with 8.2 doctors per thousand people, three times the rate in the US, which has 2.6 doctors per thousand people. South Korea has 2.4 doctors per thousand people, while Italy has 4.1. Cuba’s mortality rate is equally as impressive with a rate of 4 per 1,000 births, which is lower than that in the US, despite all its resources.
Cuba struggles with shortages of medicine in its pharmacies as a result of the US sanctions regime, but it has found ways to continue improving its universal healthcare for the Cuban population. Cuba spends an impressive 23% of its national budget on healthcare and 30% on education, comprising a total of 53% on education and health, compared to the US which spends 28% on health and education.
It is a shocking double standard that US companies are not allowed to export essential life saving medicine to a critically ill Cuban child if they are the child of a member of the Cuban Communist party. There are medications in the US for particular diseases that cannot be bought in Cuba. US regulations stipulate that US drug companies must certify the end-user if they want to sell medicine to Cubans. The end user cannot be a member of the Communist Party, according to the Helms-Burton Act, which was signed into law by former President Bill Clinton. Most US drug companies find such certification impractical and therefore refuse to export to Cuba.
Cuba has risen above these monumental challenges in acquiring medicine for its people, and these hurdles have actually spurred innovation and medical scientific research in the island nation, with amazing results. Cuba has made huge strides in biotech innovations, and specialises in antiviral drugs such as Interferon Alpha 2B, which is being used to combat Covid-19 in both Cuba and China. Cuba supplies Interferon in its public health system as a preventative measure to elevate the immune system. It is also used in the early stages of infection with Covid-19, whereby it is administered via nebulisation so that it reaches the lungs, and has shown to have a positive impact. It is also administered to positive Covid-19 patients in a critical state through Intramuscular injection. Interferon is now being produced with Cuban technology in Jilin in China at a joint venture facility.
Cuba’s state owned pharmaceutical industry has been prioritising the production of Covid-19 treatments and therapies, and has 21 other products being used to fight the virus such as antivirals, antiarrhythmics, and antibiotics. Cuba is also using Biomodulin T for recurring respiratory infections in older adults to increase a patient’s defences.
Cuba’s successful health system has been an example for the rest of the world. Cuba has the world’s largest medical schools - the Havana Latin American School of Medicine - which provides free education to 35,000 doctors from 138 countries since 1999. Scholarships to the medical school include full tuition, textbooks, accommodation, meals, and a stipend. Graduates are encouraged to practice on the frontlines in low income and medically underserved communities.
Cuba is committed to producing revolutionary doctors prepared to put their lives on the line both at home and abroad to save lives. Today Cuba has 50,000 doctors working in 61 countries at any one time, which is a feat not even the most developed countries can rival. It is truly remarkable that a tiny island nation which has endured suffocating economic sanctions imposed by the US for over 60 years can have accomplished so much for the betterment of humankind.
* Shannon Ebrahim is Independent Media's Group Foreign Editor.