[act-ma] This Thur July 26, 6:30, SALUD! Film on Cuban Healthcare

Amy Hendrickson amyh at texnology.com
Wed Jul 25 13:42:45 PDT 2007

Salud! A film on Cuban Healthcare
Thursday, July 26, 6:30 pm, 
Coolidge Corner Library, 31 Pleasant St

Free, Co-sponsored by Brookline PeaceWorks and 
the July 26th Coalition for Cuba Solidarity
Light refreshments

617 738-8029 peace at texnology.com


An elaboration of the ideas discussed in Michael Moore's SiCKO
The main theme of the movie is that American society needs to focus on the "we" and not the "me" in healthcare. This broad message is an overlay for the specific criticisms of the healthcare industry - the movie asks where the morality of the American public lies and contrasts America's approach to health care unfavorably with other nations. 
Coolidge Corner Theatre, 11:30, 2:10, 4:50, 7:30, 10:00 pm     

See SiCKO ... Then See 
SALUD! examines the curious case of Cuba, a cash-strapped country with what the BBC calls "one of the world's best health systems." From the shores of Africa to the Mississippi Delta "Salud" hits the road with some 28,000 Cuban health professionals serving in 68 countries, and explores the hears and minds of international medical students in Cuba- now numbering 30,000. Their stories bring home the complex realities confronting the movement to make health care a human right. Featuring Dr. Paul Farmer of Partners in Health, the subject of Tracey Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains.      

http://www.saludthefilm.net/  <== Interesting material on this site on Cuban healthcare and a critique of US healthcare.

How is Cuba able to serve the medical needs of its own people,
and at the same time send Cuban medical professionals around
the world to work with some of the poorest people on the planet--
who have never had health care before of any sort?

From: http://www.saludthefilm.net/ns/cuba-health-system.html

Analysts have explained Cuba's health results in the face of adversity by pointing to the following key components:

  a.. During the worst years of the crisis, the health status of the population remained a fundamental government priority. In fact, the Cuban Parliament actually increased the health sector budget in Cuban pesos and the share of GDP earmarked for health care at the expense of spending for the military and state administration. At the same time, the health sector hard currency budget was forced down by two-thirds as a result of dropping exports.    
  Although scarcities abounded, they were shared, prompting a report published by the UNDP in 1999 to state,  "An evaluation of 25 countries in the Americas, measuring relative inequalities in health, revealed that Cuba is the country with the best health situation in Latin America and the Caribbean.  It is also the country which has achieved the most effective impact with resources, although scarce, invested in the health sector." (Study on Human Development and Equity in Cuba. UNDP,1999: p.103).

  a.. Key medical resources were centralized and moved to where they were most critically needed.  In this context, the Minister of Public Health initiated a Tuesday morning meeting of all major health sectors to assess the exact amount of hard currency available that week, and decide which purchases were possible and essential (often only the life-saving ones were made).  Similar weekly sessions were held in all Cuban hospitals, to tally the medications on hand and send out an SOS for those patients not covered by current stocks. A program soliciting international donations at one point yielded some USD$20 million annually in medicines and equipment, under the consistent proviso that international agencies could inspect end-use facilities to see their donations were getting to the intended patients.

  b.. The educational status of the Cuban population itself worked for continued hygiene measures and health education.  While many of the other "social determinants of health" spiraled downward, the average educational level of Cubans by 2002 was ninth grade  (Source: Libro Blanco 2006. MINREX;2006, Havana, Cuba.); secondary school (through 9th grade) was required; and over 99% of young people (ages 15-24) who graduated from secondary school were going on to high school. (Source: Objetivos de Desarrollo del Milenio: Cuba, Segundo Informe, July, 2005; Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Económicas, La Habana, p. 33).  As has been amply demonstrated in international reports, the educational level of a population (and especially of women) augers well for health promotion and disease prevention, and this was certainly the case in resource-scarce Cuba in the 1990s and remains so today.

  c.. The dedication of Cuban health professionals, working under the most stressful conditions,  was without doubt, indispensable for the Cuban population to emerge from the worst of the crisis with their health status essentially intact.  Heart surgeons, riding to work on bicycles, would wait half an hour for their hands to stop shaking before entering the operating room.  Nephrologists were working round-the-clock to dialyze ever-more patients on ever-fewer artificial kidneys.  Clinicians in hospitals across the island were phoning each other, the Ministry and colleagues abroad to find life-saving antibiotics for their patients.

  d.. The health status of the Cuban population, vastly improved by the health care system since 1960, provided a sound foundation which could not be easily eroded.  By the 90s, Cuban children were being vaccinated against 13 childhood diseases -- more than any other country in the world, including the United States.  A host of diseases had been eradicated altogether, infectious diseases were at a minimum, and Cubans were dying of the same chronic conditions described in the mortality charts of industrialized countries.  A significant socio-political corollary was that the majority of Cubans trusted the health care system to work for them.

  e.. Perhaps the most important single catalyst determining the positive outcome from the precarious 1990s was the presence of a solid community-oriented primary care network accessible to virtually every family in Cuba.  The family doctor-and-nurse teams, responsible for the health of some 150 families in a given neighborhood, concentrated their attention on health promotion, prevention of disease, environmental cleanup, priority attention to children and the elderly, prenatal care, and early detection of infection and chronic disease.  Most of these activities required little in the way of material support, but they went a long way towards keeping the levels of disease from reaching the already over-extended hospitals wards and emergency rooms. 
Cuba & Global Health


Cuba & the Global Health Workforce:
Health Professionals Abroad

Cuba's contribution to the developing world's health workforce has been essentially a practical one, focusing on health care delivery and medical education:  since 1960, over 100,000 Cuban health professionals have served in 101 countries, staffing public health infrastructures; and over 21,000 students from Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Caribbean are currently enrolled in Cuban medical schools, not counting those in nursing and allied health professions (1)(2).

This collaboration has evolved over time.  The first Cuban medical team was sent to earthquake-devastated Chile in 1960, when the two governments had no formal relations.  Such disaster relief missions were dispatched to another 16 countries over the next decades, but were soon overtaken by a more long-term modality:  by virtue of government-to-government agreements, Cuban health professionals (the vast majority physicians) began providing health care to underserved populations and regions in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia (3).  Since the 1963 request from the Algerian government of Prime Minister Ahmed Ben Bella (bereft of physicians at the end of French occupation) another 100 governments have initiated pacts with Cuba for a sustained presence of Cuban health professionals in their countries' health care delivery programs:  six in the 1960s; 22 in the 70s; 11 in the 80s; 47 in the 90s; and 15 since 2000 (1)(4)(5).  

The fact that half this cooperation began in the nineties speaks to developments during that time in Cuba's own health system, which made larger numbers of physicians available for international service and also reinforced Cuban health authorities' commitment to primary care as key to improving health status.  In particular, by mid-decade, the neighborhood-based family doctor-and-nurse program was in place across the country, by 1999 covering 98.3% of Cuba's 11 million people (6). The program culminated a process of embedding health services deeper into communities, aimed at more effective health promotion and disease prevention efforts.  As a result, curricula in Cuba's 21 medical schools were revamped, and a residency created in family medicine, ratcheting up the number of graduates annually to cover needs at home and growing interest from other countries. By the end of the decade, Cuba had nearly 30,000 family physicians, and a total of some 60,000 doctors, more than Sub-Saharan Africa.  By 2005, the island's physician population had reached over 70,000. (6)(7)(8).

The other factor explaining the jump in cooperation during the nineties was external:  in 1998, Hurricanes Georges and Mitch swept Central America and the Caribbean, leaving 2.4 million homeless.  Cuban medical teams, at first deployed on an emergency basis, stayed on at the request of several governments under Cuba's Comprehensive Health Program (CHP), created in response to the region's crisis and later expanded to include a total of 27 countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia.  By way of example, in May, 2006, there were 448 Cuban health professionals in Guatemala, 426 in Haiti, 113 in Belize, 347 in Honduras, 93 in Botswana, 188 in Ghana, 109 in Mali, 134 in the Gambia, 143 in Namibia and 278 in East Timor. (9)  

Under these agreements, the host country provides accommodations and food, domestic transportation, a locale for work, and a monthly stipend (usually US$150-$200), while Cuban personnel receive their regular salaries, airfare and other logistical support from the Cuban health ministry.  In  arrangements outside the CHP with wealthier countries such as South Africa, the host government pays additional hard currency salary, part of which is kept by the professionals and part of which is remitted to the Cuban health ministry. (9)(10)

In July, 2006, 28,664 Cuban health professionals were serving abroad in 68 countries. (5). In each country, the thrust of Cuban assistance has been to bolster public health infrastructures, providing the often desperately needed staff in remote areas - some in hospitals, but mainly in primary care clinics and medical posts - regions where local governments have been unsuccessful in attracting local physicians to the public sector.  In several countries, such as Honduras, Haiti, Guatemala, Mali, South Africa and the Gambia, there are whole regions where the Cubans have been the first bearers of local physician services to rural, indigenous and other marginalized communities.  They also bear the Cuban philosophy of combining population-based public health principles and prevention with clinical medicine.  

On other levels, Cuban medical scientists and advisors have participated in design of public health departments and systems, and in epidemiological research and campaigns tackling specific health problems (malaria in several African countries, dengue in El Salvador and Honduras, cholera in South Africa, etc.).  They have also worked with health ministries to devise more reliable statistical record-keeping and information systems in many countries, especially in those with the heretofore weakest infrastructures (11).

Health professionals on the ground participate and often lead local courses for midwives and other community-based health personnel and participate in more formal training for paramedical and allied health professionals. Most recently, Cuban biomedical engineers and technical support have been increasingly in demand, repairing nearly 55,000 pieces of medical equipment since 1999. (5)  

Cuban coverage has resulted in an increase in patient care levels in poor communities, according to statistics kept by the medical teams.  For the 22 countries in the CHP by 2004, from November, 1999 through February, 2004, this translated into:  36.7 million doctor's visits, 917,381 surgeries, 397,636 deliveries, 11.9 million health promotion activities, and medical education courses for 910,120 local health personnel, including midwives (12).  Health status has also improved in areas where Cuban doctors serve: in Guatemala, the infant mortality rate in these regions dropped from 45 to 16.8 deaths per 1,000 live births; in the Gambia, from 121 to 61; and in Haiti from 59.4 to 33, from 1999 through May, 2003 (13).

Recently, Cuba has taken a more pro-active role in initiating trilateral collaboration, in which a third country or agency donates resources for health programs developed between Cuba and another nation.  This was the case of the 2001-2002 vaccination drive in Haiti, when Cuban epidemiologists and family doctors teamed up with Haitian health authorities to immunize 800,000 children against five childhood diseases.  Funds from the French government and 2 million doses of vaccines from the Japanese government completed the triangle.  The German government contributed to Cuban projects with Niger and Honduras; the South African government donated US$1 million for Cuban medical cooperation with Mali; and the WHO has supported Cuban collaboration in the Gambia and elsewhere (14). According to the Cuban government, 95 non-governmental organizations worldwide contributed to CHP projects between 1999 and 2004. (13)

Since 2000, Cuba has launched four special cooperation initiatives:  one focuses on HIV-AIDS in 19 countries, through joint projects in prevention and treatment (Botswana, Honduras, Mali, and Haiti among them); and in 2001, Cuban officials offered African countries 4,000 doctors and other health professionals, medical school professors, a stock of anti-retroviral drugs and diagnostic equipment to help combat the epidemic (15).

The second, begun in 2003, makes a major commitment to Venezuela, a country with one of the greatest discrepancies between rich and poor in South America.(16)  The Venezuelan government's "Barrio Adentro" program relies on some 20,000 Cuban family doctors to provide health services and health education in medically underserved communities ranging from the shantytowns of Caracas to the jungle riverbanks of Amazonas State.  The agreement falls under the ALBA accords (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas), offered as a South-South alternative to the FTAA, in which several Latin American and Caribbean countries now participate-the principle being that each brings to the table the resources at its disposal to be used for social programs bilaterally and throughout the region. Thus, in Cuba and Venezuela's case, the arrangement is often boiled down in the international press to "oil for doctors".

The third initiative is a vision restoration program, begun in mid-2004, which addresses the condition of the estimated six million persons in Latin America and the Caribbean who have reversible blindness or vision loss due to cataracts and other conditions-but who are too poor to pay for the surgeries in their own countries. Since the program began through July, 2006, 317,489 patients had been treated from 27 countries (including 69,000 Cubans).  Ophthalmology centers have also been opened in Ecuador, Bolivia and Mali under this program, which receives support from local governments as well as the ALBA. (17)(18)

The fourth new initiative is the Henry Reeve Disaster Response Contingent, originally some 1500 physicians offered to the USA in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  When the Bush administration turned down the offer, the contingent was established as a permanent volunteer corps and given special training, ready to be dispatched to disaster areas within 24 hours.  Their first mission came in October 2005, when 2500 traveled with 32 field hospitals to earthquake-stricken Pakistan, where they remained for five months.  Since then, the contingent has also been dispatched to Guatemala, Indonesia and Bolivia.  The Contingent builds upon earlier Cuban cooperation in disaster relief since the 1960 earthquake in Chile, which took Cuban health professionals to Nicaragua, Honduras, and several other countries thereafter.  The treatment in Cuba of over 17,000 children of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster is also part of this history. (5)(19)

Over time, Cuba's South-South cooperation has faced endless challenges:  the political and social instability besetting many developing countries; the sheer size of the effort and resources needed to make a dent in the poorest countries' health status, sometimes straining domestic health facilities; barriers to access and treatment found in the various health systems staffed by Cubans; initial concerns from in-country medical associations fearful of job displacement; the need to expand the skill set of Cuban physicians serving abroad, who confront circumstances and infectious diseases long absent from the Cuban health picture; and unabating effects of the US embargo which continue to generate barriers for Cuban health care at home and abroad. 

  1.. Memo to Gail Reed from Dr. Ricardo Bagarotti, Unidad de Colaboración Médica, Ministry of Public Health, Havana, June 26, 2006. 
  2.. Data from the Comprehensive Health Program and International Cooperation Vice Ministry, Ministry of Foreign Relations, Havana and the Vice Ministry for Medical Education, Office of Foreign Student Enrollment, December, 2006.  
  3.. Memo to Gail Reed from Dr. R. Bagarotti, Unidad de Colaboración Médica, Ministry of Public Health, Havana, March, 2004. 
  4.. Speech by Ahmed Maamar, Algerian Ambassador to Cuba, May 24, 2003, Astral Theater, Havana (40th anniversary of Cuban medical team's arrival in Algiers). 
  5.. "Mirando al futuro desde la Cooperación Internacional", Power Point presentation by Dr. Yiliam Jiménez, 26 June 2006, Havana.  
  6.. Reed, GA.  Challenges for Cuba's Family Doctor-and-Nurse Program.  In MEDICC Review, Vol 11 No 3, 2000. 
  7.. Castro, F.  Speech at national medical school graduation ceremonies, August 13, 2003.  Unpublished transcript. 
  8.. Health Human Resources Trends in the Americas: Evidence for Action, Pan American Health Organization Human Resources for Health Unit, September 2006, Washington DC., p. 6. 
  9.. Memo to Gail Reed from Dr. Nestor Marimón Torres, Director of International Relations, Ministry of Public Health, July 4, 2006. 
  10.. Author's interview with Dr. Jaime Davis, head of the Cuban medical team in South Africa, July 17, 2003, Johannesburg, South Africa. 
  11.. Country reports from Cuban medical teams, Unidad de Colaboración Médica, Ministry of Public Health, Havana, 2003. 
  12.. Comprehensive Health Program Database, Departamento de Cooperación Internacional, Ministry of Foreign Relations, Havana, Cuba, March 15, 2004. 
  13.. Globalizando la solidaridad.  Programa Integral de Salud. Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores, p. 7. 
  14.. Reed GA. Interview with Dr. Yiliam Jiménez, Director, Comprehensive Health Program, October 17, 2003, Havana. 
  15.. Speech by Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage Davila, UN Meeting on AIDS, June 25, 2001. 
  16.. Informe Sobre Desarrollo Humano, 2003.  UNDP.  Mundi-Prensa, 2003.  pp. 282.  Difference between incomes of top 10% and lowest 10% is a factor of 44, surpassed only by Brazil and Paraguay. 
  17.. Acumulado Operación Milagro (hasta 27 junio 2006), International Cooperation Vice Ministry, Ministry of Foreign Relations, Havana. 
  18.. Reed GA. Interview with Dr. Marcelino Río, Director, Instituto de Oftalmología Pando Ferrer, Ciudad Habana, 17 November, 2006. 
  19.. Vice Minister for International Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Relations, Havana, 2006. 
©MEDICC, 2007


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