963 Winter 2020 Cuban Medicine: Myth, Reality, and Firsthand Experience
Monday, 11:50–1:15, Feb. 10
Instructor: Mark Weinstein
What started as a one-day port call visit to Havana ended up as an overnight stay at a Cuban private clinic and a crash course in Cuban medicine. Medical care was thin in Cuba before the 1959 revolution and particularly scarce in the countryside. Fidel Castro and his Communist government, confronted with the emigrating loss of half of Cuba’s small corps of doctors, built extensive medical training programs from scratch, and a functioning government-funded universal health care system. Faced with limited resources, the Cubans developed an approach keyed to primary care doctors and nursing assistants embedded in each rural community and urban neighborhood to practice local, fast, and preventive family medicine. Beyond that, there is a hierarchy of clinics and hospitals where more seriously sick or injured patients are treated. Cuba has trained thousands of doctors. If one gets in, the medical school education is free. It is an imperfect and bureaucratically hampered system, but it functions remarkably well with limited resources. It has been impacted by the loss of Soviet subsidies in 1991 and by the ongoing US embargo. Cuba has sent thousands of doctors to South American and African countries for both economic and political reasons. They say that everything is free for Cubans, but there is a growing private system for rich Cubans and foreigners. The instructor will recount his personal experience: his wife accidentally cut her lower leg quite badly while they were sightseeing, and was taken to a clinic in the diplomatic section of Havana. He had to pay in advance in Cuban tourist pesos. US insurance was not accepted, and US credit cards and checks were also not accepted. It was quite an experience!
Mark Weinstein, an electrical engineer and 12-year OLLI member, has presented courses in science, aviation, space, history, and travel.