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The Cuban Healthcare System

Due to the change in government in 1959, many physicians left Cuba for the United States, leaving the Cuban healthcare system in a much weakened condition. The government reacted to this by redefining healthcare as the social responsibility as well as a basic right of the individual citizen. They then worked to unify the national healthcare system to better provide medical services for all Cuban citizens. As a result of this action, Cuban children were being vaccinated against 13 childhood diseases, more than any other country in the world, including that of the United States. Cuba was also able to entirely eradicate a host of diseases and has been able to keep infectious diseases to a minimum.

In 1991, with the collapse of the socialist bloc and in addition to the US embargo, Cuba faced further challenges to its economy and healthcare system. Paramount to overcoming these obstacles was the continued focus on educating the Cuban people with respect to promoting good health and disease prevention. The Ministry of Health firmly believed that preventative medicine rather than reactive medicine would not only enhance the health of Cuban population but also maintain the health of the system itself. The development of community-based primary care modules that are accessible to every family in Cuba has been accomplished by establishing healthcare teams in residential neighborhoods. These teams, which are comprised of a family doctor and nurse, are responsible for the health of approximately 150 - 200 families. The team concentrates on promoting positive health habits, prevention of disease, and increasing environmental responsibility. Priority is given to children, the elderly, prenatal care, and early detection of infectious and chronic diseases. Preventative medicine requires little in the way of material support, but goes a long way towards keeping the levels of disease from reaching acute proportions. This is especially important as hospitals and emergency rooms have become overwhelmed due to an aging population. In the face of today's spiraling medical costs worldwide, this type of forward thinking makes even more economic sense than ever before.

In 2007, Cuba's Ministry of Health announced that it has undertaken computerization of its healthcare system and is creating national networks for blood banks, nephrology and medical images. After France, Cuba is only the second country in the world to create such an undertaking. In addition, Cuba is also preparing to centralize its database for a national health registry which includes hospital management, primary health care, medical genetic projects, neurosciences and educational programs. The aim is to maintain its premium quality health service, to increase exchange among professionals and to boost research and development projects. An important link in the development of Cuba's IT infrastructure is to guarantee access to Cuba's Data Transmission Network and Health Website (INFOMED) to all units and staff of the national healthcare system. As a result of Cuba's continued forward thinking and dedication to healthcare, the indicators of life expectancy and infant mortality rival those of developed countries such as Canada and the U.S.

In order to fund these cutting edge programs and cover the escalating costs of R&D, Cuba now exports pharmaceutical products, vaccines and biotechnology to developing countries around the world. However the fastest growing market over the last decade has been the development of health tourism. Patients from over 90 countries worldwide have selected Cuba as their destination of choice for surgical procedures. Today the medical sector ranks sixth in terms of exports and services, providing the country with vitally needed foreign exchange. As worldwide healthcare costs escalate, Medical Tourism will become Cuba's most important growth industry by providing the world a safe, effective and affordable healthcare alternative.

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