Cuban and American healthcare (CounterPunch Sep 3, 2020)

Cuba has a lower infant mortality rate and longer life expectancy than the US while spending less than 10% per person annually on healthcare. Cuban healthcare is much better and very  much cheaper than US healthcare.

Destroying Health Care Advances of the Cuban Revolution

It has provided medical education to so many from other countries that in 1999 it opened the Latin American School of Medicine to bring students from impoverished countries to study and become doctors. By 2020 it had trained over 30,000 doctors. It had also trained huge numbers of other health professionals from beyond its shores.

Even before Cuba brought in students, it sent its own professionals on “missions” to help those in other countries. Over the past six decades more than 400,000 Cuban medical professionals have worked in 164 countries and improved the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

The US response to this incredible international medical revolution documents that it is not satisfied to stop medical care from improving but has an irresistable urge to reverse gains across the globe. The US government glommed onto complaints from physicians in multipe countries who whined because Cuban doctors would go to jungles and other dangerous areas where the the rich urban doctors refused to venture. Of course, the US had its own reasons to despise Cuban medical assistance.

Cuba has long done humanitarian work in education as well as medicine which puts its northerm behemoth to shame. Its actions expose that health care can be done vastly cheaper with better outcomes than corportate medicine, which traumatizes financiers of the sickness industry.

Republicans and Democrats are firmly united with corporate media in hiding Cuban medical accomplishments from the US population. They defnitely do not want other poor countries to replicate Cuba’s system. Horrifed at the prospect that Cuban health care would shine as an example, the US went to work to undermine and destroy Cuban medical internationalism in any way it could.

In August 2006 the George W. Bush administration began the “Cuban Medical Professional Parole” program to encourage Cuban medical staff on international missions to desert and move to the US, with no questions asked. Only 2-3% did so; but their departure left those poor countries with less care.

This is in line with any corporate goals to destroy local health care and replace it with profit-based health care across the globe. Driven by the same market factors that compel extraction, transportation and food production industries to go international, the US sickness industry likely feels the urge to create and control a global market of “health care providers.” One of its main obstacles will be community health systems, which actually work much better for poor people.

As the knowledge of the success of Cuba’s medical information spread, its detractors flew into a frenzy and clutched onto wild hallucinations. As accurately explained by Vijay Prashad, they fantasized that Cuba was engaging in “human trafficking” by forcing its doctors to work internationally. The accusation is blatantly absurd since Cuban doctors always have the choice of whether to broaden their medical knowledge by going abroad and treating diseases that have been eradicated in Cuba or to stay at home.

It is true that its doctors have incredibly low wages (as do all working people in Cuba) due to the destructive effects of the US embargo. In one of the great ironies of propaganda machines, the US seeks to criminalize Cuba in the eyes of the world by screeching that medical wages are low while itself being the cause of meager pay.

Results of this attacking Cuba during Covid-19 have been murderous. After Lenín Moreno became president of Ecuador in 2017 he abruptly veered from what he promised and ordered Cuban doctors to leave. At the same time Venezuela and Cuba had a total of 27 Covid-19 deaths, Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil, had an estimated death toll of 7,600. Similarly, when the neoliberal Jair Bolsonaro took power in Brazil in 2019, he threw out Cuban doctors. This left the country with rising infant mortality and so unprepared for Covid that even inviting them back was unable to undo the damage. Following the 2019 anti-democratic coup in Bolivia, the ultra right-wing Jeanine Áñez had herself anointed as president and expelled Cuban doctors, which devastated that country’s health care system. Although Bolivia is a physically isolated country with a population of only 8.7 million it had 2200 deaths by June 2020.

Who Coped with Covid-19?

The fact that Cuba had gone far, far beyond Medicare-for-All is what allowed it to have such spectacular control over Covid. Its politicians unified behind the ministry of health which developed a national strategy. That strategy was in effect before the island’s first victim had succumbed to the disease. Social distancing, masks and contact tracing were universally accepted. According to Susana Hurlich, medical students went door-to-door collecting data, distributing homeopathic medication (PrevengHo-Vir), and, most important, finding out what problems people needed help with.

Neighborhood doctors collected data to send to polyclinics and helped make certain that residents’ medical and other needs were met. Clinic staff met needs that neighborhood doctors could not provide and sent patients they could not care for to hospitals. Hospital doctors slept at hospitals for 14 day shifts before being quarantined for another 14 days so they would not infect their families or communities.

On July 18, deaths from Covid-19 numbered 140,300 in the US and 87 in Cuba. Though its population is only 30 times that of Cuba, the US had 1,612 times as many deaths.

As US politicians conspired with corporations to see how much profit could be made from the pandemic, Cuban health care went international. When northern Italy became the epicenter of Covid-19 cases, one of its hardest hit cities was Crema. On March 26, 2020 Cuba sent 52 doctors and nurses. A smaller and poorer Caribbean nation was one of the few aiding a major European power.

On March 12, 2020 nearly 50 crew members and passengers on the British cruise ship Braemar either had Covid-19 or were showing symptoms as the ship approached the Bahamas, a British Commonwealth nation. During the next five days, the US, the Bahamas, and several other Caribbean countries turned it away. On March 18, Cuba became the only country to allow the Braemar’s over 1000 crew members and passengers to dock.

The incidents of Crema and the Braemar were hardly without precedent. They resulted from 60 years of medical internationalism by Cuba. Just as Cuba’s actions during Covid-19 reflected its development, so the horrible expansion of the disease in the US, Brazil and India showed the lack of concern under reactionary rule.

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Don Fitz is on the Editorial Board of Green Social Thought where a version of this article first appeared. He was the 2016 candidate of the Missouri Green Party for Governor. He is author of Cuban Health Care: The Ongoing Revolution. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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