Tuesday, July 27, 2004

The Cuban Suprise

As a perspective enthusiast, I am often intrigued with the way the prevailing winds of rhetoric can simply blow vision aside and render people blind to certain realities. One such example; Cuban medical exports. I found out about the Cuban surge in medical exports and humanitarian aid through small trickles of information in the cracks of the internet that smell like conspiracy theories.

Still, after some persistence I have discovered a facet of Cuba that I have to admire. I think the Cuban medical trend is amazing given what they have to work with... First, a Marxist regime, complete with inefficient management and antiquated technology. Second, uncompromising trade embargoes imposed by the US which forbids all other countries in the world from trading or associating with Cuba in any way. Third, the disappearance of their only source of external support, the Soviet Union.

Still, despite all this, Cuba has managed to turn itself into a healthcare superpower that has developed the only meningitis B vaccine available, exports the world's most effective hepatitis B vaccine to more than 30 countries, developed the first synthetic vaccine for the prevention of pneumonia and meningitis, which is much cheaper than what is offered by Western pharmaceutical companies, and is poised to provide anti-cancer therapies to the European market by 2008. Cuban R&D is also working on a new cholera vaccine and seeking to match the efforts of Western countries in the race to find the first vaccine against Aids. The country of only 11 million people, now boasts 52 scientific research institutes in the capital and more than 12,000 scientists on the whole island. (Source - Yale Center for the Study of Globalization)

In addition to developing and exporting products, Cuba has been providing medical services, free of charge, to nations all around the world as humanitarian aid. The system is capable of maintaining more than 16,000 health professionals working in Third World nations.

For instance, when Hurricane Mitch struck Central America in 1998, Guatemala and Honduras asked Havana for help. Within 72 hours, the first Cuban doctors arrived. 1,700 Cubans have worked among these people since then, tending their needs. According to Guatemalan sources, in this time, they have managed to bring childhood death rates down from 40.2 per thousand to 13.8 per thousand live births, and they have saved 157,226 lives. (Source - http://www.pww.org/article/articleprint/4878/)

And yet the average American knows nothing about this. I recently mentioned this to some friends of mine. They thought I was pulling their leg. The contrast between a super-effective biotech industry and the sluggish and inefficient state-controlled economy just doesn't make for a believable story. But what strikes me is the scarcity of information in American media. Any positive light on Cuba simply seems taboo in the American culture. Do a Google search on Cuban medicine and you get a result set of unofficial chat forums, foreign sites, Marxist sites and conspiracy sites.

Still, I was able to find a few reliable sources such as the official UN press conference on Haiti humanitarian aid that notes the astounding accomplishments of Cuban doctors and support technicians dispatched to Hati. (Source - http://www.un.org/News/briefings/docs/2004/CanadaPressCfc.doc.htm)

...A testimonial from an American who suffered from retinitis pigmentosa - a degenerative eye-disease often referred to as "night blindness" who was told by American doctors that nothing can be done, so she went to Cuban doctors and was promptly treated with positive results. (Source - http://www.marmer2020.com/pr05.htm)

...Even coverage of a letter from Castro to Bush offering free medical care to save the lives of 3,000 poor U.S. citizens over the next five years as a symbolic gesture in reference to the roughly 3,000 killed in the 9/11 attacks. Bush never responded, probably taking the letter as a stab at the 44 million in the US without medical insurance, which it probably was. Nevertheless, Castro was right when he said, "By a very conservative estimate, dozens of thousands of lives are lost in the U.S. every year because of this, maybe 30 or 40 times the number of people who died in the Twin Towers." (Source -http://www.cubafriends.ca/news/Free_Health.php

The most interesting confirmation of the Cuban medical industry however comes from a right-wing military geek site that insists that the Cuban medical exports are a weapon for spreading communism. (Source - http://www.strategypage.com/dls/articles/200447.asp)

Now I wouldn't be surprised if medical support from Cuba came with a little pep talk about socialized medicine, but then again I can't walk through a single day in America without getting assaulted by commercial ads on the radio, on billboards, public transportation, the t-shirts people wear, websites, e-mail, postal mail, TV, sports venues, even schools... It's pretty much the same thing, spam. But if I need my life saved by a Cuban doctor, I'm not going to mind a little spam with it. I might even be convinced that socialized medicine is at least worth considering.