Cuban Health Care Myths


The recent death of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro has caused a wave of liberal praise for this murderous tyrant. Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has permanently stained his reputation with this brief statement, “Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation.”

Michael Moore, liberal producer of documentaries, promoted the myth of Cuban health care in his 2007 film called Sicko. Perhaps Mr. Trudeau was taken in by Moore’s propaganda. Unfortunately, the truth is a different picture.

Jay Nordlinger, in a 2007 article written in National Review in response to Moore’s film, notes that excellent health care is possible in Cuba; just not for the average Cuban. According to Dr. Jaime Suchlicki of the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, there are actually three systems of health care in Cuba.

Three Healthcare Systems

The first is for foreigners only. This is called “medical tourism.” These tourists pay in cash, which provides badly needed currency for the communist regime. They are provided facilities in which they are treated first class; clean, well-stocked, state-of-the-art equipment.

These foreigners come for so-called vanity treatments including Botox, liposuction, and breast implants. This is big business for Cuba, bringing in as much as $2.5 Billion per year to this cash-poor regime, according to some reports. This is the system Moore depicted in his propaganda film Sicko.

The second system is for Cuban elites only. That means Communist Party elites, military officials, government approved artists and writers, etc. In the Soviet Union these people were referred to as the “nomenklatura.” These people enjoy the same quality healthcare as the medical tourists.

The third system is for average Cubans. This is the real Cuban healthcare system. By all reports it is wretched. A quick search of the internet reveals dozens of articles exposing this system. Nordlinger describes this system:

“Hospitals and clinics are crumbling. Conditions are so unsanitary, patients may be better off at home, whatever home is. If they do have to go to the hospital, they must bring their own bed sheets, soap, towels, food, light bulbs and even toilet paper. And basic medications are scarce. In Sicko, even sophisticated medications are plentiful and cheap. In the real Cuba, finding an aspirin can be a chore. And an antibiotic will fetch a fortune on the black market.”

A nurse interviewed by Isabel Vincent of Canada’s National Post said, “We have nothing. I haven’t seen aspirin in a Cuban store here for more than a year. If you have any pills in your purse, I’ll take them, even if they have passed their expiration date.”

Nordlinger says equipment that doctors have to work with is either antiquated or nonexistent. Doctors have been known to reuse latex gloves. American doctors who travel to Cuba on medical missions make sure to bring as much equipment and supplies as they can carry. One told an Associated Press writer, “The Cuban doctors are pretty well trained, but they have nothing to work with. It’s like operating with knives and spoons.”

That would put Cuba on a level par with other third-world countries where I have done medical mission work such as Kenya and Haiti.

Infant Mortality

A widely used measure of healthcare quality is infant mortality. When Castro seized power in 1959 Cuba was one of the most advanced countries in Latin America. Its infant-mortality rate at that time was the 13th lowest in the world, ahead of even France, Belgium, and West Germany. Since then it has slipped to 44th in the world, a respectable level given that the European Union is 43rd and the United States is 45th.

However, statistics of this nature are easily manipulated by a totalitarian government. Knowing the world looks upon this statistic as an important indicator of healthcare quality, Cuban doctors are instructed to pay close attention to prenatal and infant care. If there is any sign of abnormality, any reason for concern, the pregnancy is “interrupted.” This is a euphemism for mandatory abortion.

The abortion rate in Cuba is sky-high which keeps infant mortality rates down. The United States, on the other hand, takes on the challenge of treating high-risk pregnancies and pre-mature deliveries and therefore has a higher rate of infant mortality despite having some of the best healthcare facilities in the world.

Cuban doctors who object to these mandatory abortions are treated harshly. They are labeled as “counter-revolutionaries” or “enemies of the state.” The result is a high rate of Cuban doctor emigration. A local joke is that if you want to see a Cuban doctor you must leave the island.

The Cuban healthcare system is socialized medicine in a totalitarian regime. That represents the worst of all possible worlds for the Cuban people. Do not be fooled by propagandists like Michael Moore or Prime Minister Trudeau.

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