Reflections on Cuba's health care system - and ours

By Richard Curtis, in People's Weekly World,
10 December, 1994, pg. 18

I was reminded of my trip to Cuba the other day. I was there for a philosophy conference in 1991 for nine days. The people everywhere were friendly, even on the streets of Havana - friendlier than anywhere I have been. In fact, Havana is the only large city in the Americas where even elderly women feel safe walking alone at night.

I don't rememher much of my last weekend there, however, because I was sick - like a dog. It was flu season in the tropics. I was sick for three days and had to get penicillin shots to help me. Eventually I was convinced that I should see a doctor, who turned out to he a kind, gentle old man who was mostly retired from family practice and worked part-time for the hotel where I was staying. Seeing the doctor was free. The penicillin shots were free, except for a couple of pesos for the penicillin itself.

The Cuban medical system is the most efficient in this hemisphere. Everyone has a family doctor and Cuba still supplies young doctors to other countries for their rural health programs. These days Cuba is selling temporary interest in its beaches to international hotel companies so that it has enough money for national health care.

You hear a lot of criticism of Cuba in our country, all of it (that I have heard) lies and distonions. Yet, just about everywhere else, when the national budget comes up short it is people's social programs that get cut. Do they have family doctors in every town of El Salvador or Brazil, or Mississippi for that matter? We even have a higher infant mortality rate in our capital than theirs.

The Cubans have a world class biomedical research and development facility. By the year 2000 they expect to have vaccinated the entire population against AIDS. It is the only polio free country in the world. And they have a Meningitis-B vaccine that we can't get here - our government has decided it's better to let a thousand innocent children die every year than buy medicine from Cuba.

The Cuban people have achieved real civilization in the face of the most brutal, imperialistic and violent enemy in the world. They have fed the entire population and taught everyone to read (their literacy rate is higher than ours). Every Cuban has an education, job, pension and health care. There are no paramilitary sqads kidnapping people in the night, no mass graves. There is no crime in the streets, no abject poverty.

Everywhere you go in Cuba people talk about issues - the government, policies, ideas, complaints. It is a political culture with people's power, and the people are armed for their self-defense (the civil defense forces). It's truly a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. They may be poor, but they have figured out how to function in spite of that. And in the face of a nearly overwhelming enemy, the government still lives up to its promises.

Why do we hear about every person who decides to emigrate to the U.S., but never about those who give up on us and go home? Why do we hear about a few individuals in rafts, but never that they are sneaking-into the U.S. not in violation of Cuban law, but in violation of our law? Why do we hear about so-called political prisoners, but never that these people where imprisoned just after the revolution for waging war against people?

Cuba is a wonderful, beautiful place. It is criminal that our country, which claims to be democratic, is waging economic warfare against a tiny neighbor who has lived up to its revolutionary ideals - ideals that its people fought and died for. It is an inspirational place.

I can't help but wonder: if a small, poor country like Cuba can do all that for its people with so little, why can't we - with all our wealth - provide basic medical services to every American?

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