May 19, 2007

Cuba's Health Care System - Old News For Some

The reviews are starting to come in for Michael Moore's new documentary Sicko and it sounds like it's a great flick. Can't wait to see it.

One thing that everyone's reporting is the Cuba stunt -- to make a dramatic point, Moore apparently took some ailing 9/11 NY first responder workers to Cuba for treatment because they weren't getting it in the US, showing that at least in some ways, even a country like Cuba has better healthcare than the US. The media's eating this up.

But the Cuba thing is not a secret. Take, for instance, Tracy Kidder's fantastic book Mountains Beyond Mountains, an excellent review of the work of famed medical doctor Paul Farmer, who runs or works in clinics in third-world countries, particularly Haiti.

Numerous times in Kidder's book, readers learn how good the Cuban health care system really is, despite the country's many problems, and that Cuban doctors are some of the best in the world and that they are sent all over the world to train and help other countries to improve their medical system. I remember when reading the book being surprised by this, and intrigued by Farmer's praise for Cuban health care.

Here's a quote:

"For me to admire Cuban medicine is a given," Farmer said. It was a poor country, and made that way at least in part by the United States' long embargo, yet when the Soviet Union had dissolved and Cuba had lost both its patron and most of its foreign trade, the regime had listened to the warnings of its epidemiologists and had actually increased expenditures on public health. By American standards Cuban doctors lacked equipment, and even by Cuban standards they were poorly paid, but they were generally well-trained, and Cuba had more of them per capita than any other country in the world-more than twice as many as the United States. Everyone, it appeared, had access to their services, and to procedures like open heart surgery. Indeed, according to a study by WHO, Cuba had the world's most equitably distributed medicine. Moreover, Cuba seemed to have mostly abandoned its campaign to change the world by exporting troops. Now they were sending doctors instead, to dozens of poor countries. About five hundred Cuban doctors worked gratis in Haiti now-not very effectively, because they lacked equipment, but even as a gesture it meant a lot to Farmer.

I wonder if Moore read the Kidder book, or was in touch with Farmer during the making of Sicko?

Wanna bet that the cable news networks and print media will treat the Cuba issue as some ridiculous new claim that Moore makes, and they'll trot out pundits to debunk the "myth" that Cuba's health system is better than the US's?

Posted by brian at May 19, 2007 07:59 PM


Thanks for this terrific commentary. To follow the entire Cuban story may I modestly recommend the CubaNews list? For the past seven years I've followed Cuba very closely, sending out over 65 THOUSAND items from, about or related to Cuba. Peraonsl commentaries as well. I've just returned from another three month visit to Cuba.

My father and his parents lived in Cuba from 1939 to 1942. They were German Jewish refugees from Hitlerís holocaust. Thatís where my own interest in Cuba comes from. Cuban society today represents an effort to build an alternative to the way life was under the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Some things work, some donít. It has its flaws and contradictions, as well as significant achievements. No society is perfect. But we can learn a few things from Cubaís experience.

Since August 2000, Iíve operated the CubaNews list, a free Yahoo news group which compiles a wide range of materials, pro and con, about Cuba, its people, politics and culture, and life within the island and affecting it in the Cuban diapora abroad. Details on the Yahoo newsgroup:

Posted by: Walter Lippmann at May 20, 2007 04:09 PM

Michael Moore fears "THE TRUH" about the Health Care in Cuba. Only members of the Communist Party and Military get best free health care in cuba. Tourist who are not Cuban who can pay with hard currency get standard health care...

Posted by: ZoneDaiatlas at May 21, 2007 07:05 PM

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