Cuba: Better than ‘not all bad’

Cuban doctors

March 10 was election day in Michigan. One of the major issues brought forward in the Sanders campaign among many important ones like eliminating cash bail and racist mass incarceration, is Medicare for All. 

Sanders has been vilified for daring to say that Cuba is “not all bad.” The return to Cold War stereotypes about socialism and communism is a relic that has lost its punch with the younger folk. 

As we experience the chaos reigning across the U.S. as the capitalist economic system and neoliberal government structures deal with the Covid-19 virus epidemic, let’s reflect on how Cuba’s medical system might handle this differently.

First, of course, health care is a human right in Cuba. Everyone is covered for everything up to and including heart transplants. The U.S. blockade has made it difficult or impossible to get some equipment, replacement parts, medicine and more, but everyone is covered.

This is the aspect that compares with Medicare for All. The health care systems in all imperialist and former colonizer countries reportedly have this universal health coverage — with the lone exception being the United States.

Cuba better than ‘not all bad’

But Cuba also has family doctors who live in the neighborhood — every neighborhood, urban and rural. They know the health challenges faced by the human beings in their community. They are the first line in preventing sickness, together with the Committees in Defense of the Revolution block organizations.

Why does Cuba have fewer infant and maternal deaths than in the U.S. per capita? The key is prevention before cure.

If we had Cuban-style health care, our local doctors and nurses would be knocking on doors in New York, Washington, Maryland, California and other centers of the outbreak to test and interview everyone. Are you sick?

A general announcement in the U.S. has now declared that everyone over age 60 should stay indoors. But what if they work? Need to use a bus or subway for transportation? Who will tell their employer? Will they be paid even if they have no sick time? Will their job and income be there when the threat passes? How will they get food? In the U.S., the only safety net is the one we create for ourselves with our families and neighbors, our union and co-workers. But that isn’t enough.

What should you do if you are feeling sick? We are told “call your doctor,” but don’t go there. Most people don’t have a doctor, just an urgent care clinic run by a variety of drug stores or other companies or their health plan center. Visiting these centers potentially brings more people into contact with the virus, increasing the epidemic. How many places do you call before you get the contact number you need? How do you do this if you are sick and scared that a potentially deadly virus is attacking your body? 

This kind of question and insecurity do not stress the lives of Cubans because the responsibility to deal with social crises is not left to each individual to navigate. Solidarity and unity are their key to a life better in many ways than that in the U.S., although with fewer material things.

An ounce of prevention

An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure, except in the capitalist system, where the pound of cure rakes in megaprofits from Big Pharma and the corporate medical industry.

Cuba’s lower infant and maternal mortality and life expectancy equal to or better than that of the U.S. highlights the human improvement due to prevention-focused health care. And at a fraction of the cost spent in the U.S., where the cost is more than $10,000 per capita.

Medicare for All and a prevention focused health system is not the end of the story. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parilla called for international solidarity to defeat Covid-19. The foreign minister’s tweet reported by Cuba News Agency “expressed the need to strengthen cooperation among the world’s nations, as well as the need to see health as a human right for all and not as a business in the hands of a few.”

The article pointed out that “Cuba has already defined strategies to contain the risk of entry and spread of the virus in the country.” But also, according to the press conference statement, “Dr. Manuel Romero Placeres, director of the Pedro Kouri Institute of Tropical Medicine (IPK) in Havana, warned that Covid-19 is one of the most virulent coronaviruses and is genotypically stronger, and if protective measures are not taken properly, the consequences of the epidemic could be disastrous.”

On a March 9 television program explaining Cuba’s special health preparations, Cuban Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz reiterated that Cuba is standing beside the Chinese government and people, mentioning [Cuba’s] modest contribution in providing Interferon Alpha 2b, with proven results.”

In addition to following health procedures, U.S. residents must uplift the call to end economic warfare against Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, Zimbabwe and all other countries blockaded by U.S. imperialism. Medical and pharmaceutical research on a vaccine will benefit from open collaboration. China recognized this by internationally sharing the entire genome sequence for public health authorities, laboratories and researchers.

According to Dr. Trevor Bedford, quoted on Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center website, Basically, a week after registering that there’s this new thing, the amazing scientists in China have a genome for the novel virus that had never been seen before. … That first genome has been amazing for people developing rapid tests to be able to actually confirm cases.”