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Source: World Press Review (VOL. 50, No. 12) December 2003

The Secrets of Cuban Medicine

Aleksei Aleksandrov, Argumenty i Fakty (mass-circulation weekly), Moscow, Russia, Sept. 17, 2003

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In the Havana airport, pale people in wheelchairs and groups of children with a feverish glint in their eyes are barely noticeable among noisy crowds of tourists. There are not too many of them, but there are some on almost every foreign plane landing at the airport of the Cuban capital. These are the people who have come to Cuba seeking medical treatment. It is hard to believe, but even now, as Cubans-living in poverty and cursing the delights of the socialist economy-stand jammed in lines at stores to exchange food stamps for groceries, numerous Cuban clinics and sanitariums are successfully treating thousands of cancer patients every year. In a period of 10 years, 18,000 modest citizens of Russia and Ukraine have undergone treatment in Cuba without having to pay a single kopeck. How did a small tropical republic manage to create the best health-care system in Latin America?

"You are asking where the billions of dollars we receive from foreign tourists go? You think the money is spent on new uniforms and false beards for Fidel?" laughs a government official in Havana. "Take a tour of our hospitals, clinics, and rehabilitation facilities-you will find the answer to your question there. Exactly half of all the currency earned in our country goes toward the health-care system, and it is our policy to spare no expense for that purpose. Maybe there is no gasoline in Cuba to fill the car up before heading off to work in the morning, and they don't have meat for lunch everywhere, but at least the people are healthy."

The successes of Cuba in the area of health care are, in fact, amazing, especially if you take into account that the country was on the verge of economic collapse after the Soviet Union ended its generous financial aid program. Physicians from leading clinics in the United States come here in secret (officially it is forbidden for U.S. citizens to visit Cuba) to acquaint themselves with Cuban experience and practices, say officials at the Russian Embassy in Havana. They illegally buy medications, such as the famous Cuban vaccine for meningitis, which is produced nowhere else in the world. Then there are the Cuban physicians who have developed a drug to treat hepatitis B. Regarding treatment for cancerous tumors, the Cubans are well ahead of many of the world's developed countries.


Question 1

Identify the indicators of development the article identifies as priorities for the Cuban government.

Question 2

Examine the evidence in the article that suggests the inhabitants of Cuba experience low livings standards.

Question 3

Analyse the advantages and disadvantages to the Cuban economy as a result of allocating resources to the health sector.