Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Why Cuba Is Exporting Health Care to the U.S.

From AlterNet :
Cubans say they offer health care to the world's poor because they have big hearts. But what do they get in return?

They live longer than almost anyone in Latin America. Far fewer babies die. Almost everyone has been vaccinated, and such scourges of the poor as parasites, TB, malaria, even HIV/AIDS are rare or non-existent. Anyone can see a doctor, at low cost, right in the neighborhood.

The Cuban health care system is producing a population that is as healthy as those of the world's wealthiest countries at a fraction of the cost. And now Cuba has begun exporting its system to under-served communities around the world -- including the United States. ...

In the words of Dr. Paul Farmer, Cuba is showing that "you can introduce the notion of a right to health care and wipe out the diseases of poverty."

Health Care for All Cubans

Many elements of the health care system Cuba is exporting around the world are common-sense practices. Everyone has access to doctors, nurses, specialists, and medications. There is a doctor and nurse team in every neighborhood, although somewhat fewer now, with 29,000 medical professionals serving out of the country -- a fact that is causing some complaints. If someone doesn't like their neighborhood doctor, they can choose another one.

House calls are routine, in part because it's the responsibility of the doctor and nurse team to understand you and your health issues in the context of your family, home, and neighborhood. This is key to the system. By catching diseases and health hazards before they get big, the Cuban medical system can spend a little on prevention rather than a lot later on to cure diseases, stop outbreaks, or cope with long-term disabilities. When a health hazard like dengue fever or malaria is identified, there is a coordinated nationwide effort to eradicate it. Cubans no longer suffer from diphtheria, rubella, polio, or measles and they have the lowest AIDS rate in the Americas, and the highest rate of treatment and control of hypertension.

Cuba is hardly exemplary of political freedom, but despite formidable challenges, it does some things well, health care primary among them. (Race relations are also pretty good on the island.) I've never understood (except for the politics of South Florida) why a policy of engagement that has brought some constructive change to China (also no paragon of human rights), should not be applied to Cuba. Or why the US is too arrogant to accept help from others, as after Katrina.

I'm inclined to believe there is some over-romanticizing going on in the excerpted piece, but also some truths worth attending to.

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