Canadian Myths About Cuban Healthcare Persist

Commentary, Healthcare & Welfare, Frontier Centre

Ever since at least Pierre Trudeau, too many Canadians have felt the need to defend Cuba, its health and education system and, on occasion, even its political system.

One student of mine recently asserted that Cuba allows unions. This was as if to say conditions there were not actually so bad for Cubans. I tried, as gently as possible, to remind him the Soviet Union also allowed freedom of association, but rights on paper and in reality are two different matters. It’s why 75 Cuban journalists were imprisoned several years ago for 20 years for daring to defy the party line.

By chance, I was in Havana the day Fidel Castro announced his resignation last month and still there five days later when – surprise – his brother, Raul Castro, took over. The first clue as to what’s wrong with Cuba’s political system should be evident even to chronic Canadian apologists: well-functioning political systems don’t have unelected cronies pass power from one brother to another.

I spent five days walking around Havana. It didn’t take a full inventory of the island’s medical system to notice the oft-heard claims about Cuba’s medical system are Potemkin-like in their non-believability. From three hospitals I observed in the capital city, it was obvious from the outside that two were run-down with broken windows and patch jobs.

One other hospital looked in better shape. Not surprisingly, it was for veterans of the (1959) revolution. In Cuba, I guess those who fought for Fidel receive superior treatment in nice surroundings. Everyone else can check into the run-down hospital next door.

On medical supplies, I observed several street-level pharmacies, and a casual walk into all of them revealed the shelves were rather bare. (If you vacation in Cuba, bring basic medicines, first-aid kits and Aspirin for Cubans.)

One tourist guide I chatted with asserted one of Cuba’s biggest exports these days is pharmaceuticals.

Given the nature of governments like Cuba’s, where statistics are routinely manipulated, there’s really no way to verify the claim or how exported pharmaceutical products benefits average Cubans.
Also, my guide noted how doctors from Cuba are sent to work overseas.

This is another point Canadian defenders of Castro’s island have spun out over the years as evidence of the island’s superiority on health care. What they don’t mention is that doctors have 75% of their overseas salaries taken by the government, whether they’re in Venezuela or South Africa.

Doctors, like pharmaceuticals, are apparently just another source of hard currency for the corrupt Castro-and-brother regime. Given the bare shelves in Havana’s pharmacies, the export policy on drugs and doctors isn’t benefiting the average Cuban’s health. (It should say something about Cuba’s medical system that even Castro used a doctor in 2005 who was imported from Spain.)

Evidence on that can be found once Cubans get to other countries. A 2003 report from American Journal of Public Health found that 33% of all Cuban refugee children had intestinal parasites, 21% had lead poisoning and all had higher-than-normal levels of disease.

During the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Cuban athletes apparently were the highest users of the Olympic system’s free health clinics. The clinics reported that Cuban athletes’ long-neglected health needs went as far as a lack of even simple dentistry.

More useful things to know about Cuban health care: The Cuban regime routinely releases how low its infant mortality rate is compared with the rate in the United States.

On January 3, 2007, the official Communist party newspaper Gramna boasted that Cuba reduced its infant mortality rate in 2006 to 5.3 per 1,000 live births, considerably below the U.S. rate of 6.0, from 2004. Think about that: most countries take a year or two to compile and release health data.

Somehow, Cuba manages to get all the data together for the previous year, release and publish it three days into January – for the year just ended.

Moreover, there are other ways in which the Cuban regime skews the infant mortality rate.

Jesús Monzón, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Pinar del Río until he left Cuba in 1995, told a Miami newspaper last year that pregnant mothers were required to appear monthly for sonograms and other tests to make sure the unborn child was healthy.

If there was any malformation in the fetus, they would interrupt the pregnancy. A heart murmur or other serious problems required an abortion. This was “automatic,” according to Dr. Monzón.

Cubans deserve better than autocracy and a lousy health-care system.
Canadians deserve to get the straight goods on the political left’s favourite tyranny and its myths.