Cuba’s health system is in an all-time high as the country has nine doctors per 1000 citizens and more than 485,000 health professionals working in the National Health System.
Cuba has more than 100,000 doctors, the highest number in the history of the country with a proportion of nine doctors per 1,000 citizens.
Jose Angel Portal Miranda, head of the Ministry of Public Health (Minsap), said that after the revolution, there were barely 3,000 doctors in Cuba. The University of Medical Sciences of Havana, since then, has trained more than 376,000 health professionals including doctors, nurses, and other health professionals.
The head of the Minsap said 35,787 foreign students from 141 countries graduated from Cuban universities, mainly from Africa and Latin America.
This year more than 10,000 medical professionals graduated from Havana, 1,535 of them are from foreign countries. Miranda also stressed that no other small developing countries could achieve such a feat.
Out of the more than 485,000 workers of the National Health System (SNS), some 234,000 are professionals from different branches of medical sciences who work in more than 13,000 health institutions in the country.
Cuba is constantly improving its health sector. Currently, the country is implementing new development programs such as health informatization, precision medicine, nanomedicine, and robotic medicine.
Cuban doctors are held in high regards worldwide for their work in different countries stuck with disaster. For example, after the cyclone Idai in Mozambique which killed more than 400 people, Cuba sent a “field hospital”, with full staff and equipment to the country in March. In the 63 days of stay in that country, the Cuban contingent attended a total of 22,259 patients.
After the doctors returned to Cuba in June, Portal said, “They wrote a new page of solidarity for Cuban public health, and they are part of that history that shows the world what we are capable of doing.”
The unique healthcare system
Cuba has been able to maintain its high-quality health care services by centering the community and focusing on disease prevention. Healthcare in Cuba has a social aspect to it, particularly in the community and the family. In 1984, Cuba shifted its focus to the community by integrating healthcare in the community and in tight-knit neighborhoods instead of a disconnected hospital system outside of the community and its reach. Health care is organized at the local level with about 9 physicians per 1000 patients (highest in the world) and the doctors generally live in the same area or neighborhood as the patients they provide service for. This system has not only made it easier for patients to access clinics, but it has also developed a communal relationship between the patient and the doctor.
Cuba’s health care system also follows a proactive structural approach. The focus of this approach is providing preventative medical services, nationwide coverage, and access to treatment. The preventative aspect of medical care has allowed Cuba to climb to the top of the world when it comes to vaccination and life expectancy.
According to the World Bank, as of 2016, Cuba’s life expectancy is about 79 years, while the U.S. is at about 78. Additionally, in 1985, Cuba invented the first and only vaccine against meningitis B. Cuba has also completely blocked the transmission of HIV and syphilis from the mother to the child. Nonetheless, with complete government control, how is the medical field incentivizes to innovate without any market competition? That’s the question that seems to haunt the minds of many free-market economists.
However, not only has the health care system in Cuba introduced significant innovations to the world, but it has also financed the national economy as well. Cuba has encouraged many students to go into the medical field by providing them with opportunities to research and practice medicine at home and abroad. This system has created a large workforce that is constantly trying to improve medical services and coverage. More recently the government has also institutionalized and focused on biotechnology in health care. It has invested in the workforce and the industry of biotechnology and this created a strong production infrastructure for the medical field and the economy of Cuba as well. This investment has ultimately knowledge sharing and interdisciplinary collaboration. Therefore, the government has directly subsidized more innovation and technological development without the need for free-market competition.
The world to follow
The unique healthcare system of Cuba is far from perfect but it has presented a model for the world to follow. With its cutting-edge innovations in preventative medicine and surgical technologies, Cuba is leading the world in healthcare, but how can we follow? We must recenter the importance of the community in providing collective support. The U.S. is capable of establishing a single-payer system if it were to bring healthcare clinics to the communities that are most impacted by the disease. This country spends about 9,403 dollars on health care while it costs about 813 dollars per person in Cuba.
The U.S. has industrialized health care and transformed it into a multi-billion dollar industry focused on profit rather than patient care. It needs to also invest in providing access to education for medical students and incentivize to be involved in community health care. The Cuban model is possible to replicate, the U.S. is one of a few developed countries that still haven’t invested in a universal healthcare system.