Exploding All Those Myths About Exceptional Cuban Health Care

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The myth of Cuban health care has reverberated throughout the international community for decades.

Despite the communist authoritarian regime’s stifling of dissent, deprivation of basic liberties, and inhumane treatment of its citizens, members of the international community have been quick to heap praise on Cuba for what—on the surface—appears to be a (counterintuitively) successful health care system.

On paper, Cuba has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world, averaging roughly 4.3 infant deaths per 1,000 births. The average life expectancy for a Cuban is roughly the same as an American, and Cuba sends more doctors abroad than most of the rest of the world, with tens of thousands of doctors in more than 60 countries.

Those statistics have earned Cuba widespread praise. The Huffington Post called the Cuban health care system “a model for the world.” The director of the World Health Organization in 2014 said Cuba’s health care system was “the way to go,” praising its citizens’ “access to quality medical services.” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has glorified the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro as someone who “gave [Cuba’s] kids health care.”

All that praise is based on falsehoods.

One of the biggest myths surrounding Cuban health care is the country’s low infant-mortality rate. Cuba is able to achieve what appears to be a remarkably low infant mortality rate not through superior and widespread health care, as defenders of the system want to believe, but rather through forced abortions and falsified statistics.

Cuba has one of the highest abortion rates in the world. Women are regularly pressured into aborting babies that could have some sort of “abnormality,” and Cuban doctors are notorious for performing abortions without consent of the mother.

Moreover, Cuban doctors have admitted to regularly falsifying statistics about childbirth in an attempt to keep the country’s child mortality rate artificially low.

The country’s health care woes extend far beyond the infant mortality rate, however. Despite supposedly having equal health care for all, Cuba in reality has a three-tiered system.

The top tier is full of shiny hospitals and well-trained doctors providing expensive treatments, but it is only available to foreigners. The second tier is restricted to the Cuban elite and is also made up of state-of-the-art hospitals providing high-quality care.

Then there is the third tier—the one foreigners do not see—that is available to the ordinary Cuban citizen. The health care in this tier is horrendous, comprising hospitals that are falling apart and so unsanitary that citizens are often better off not going; a lack of access to basic medications; and mandates that patients bring their own sheets, soap, towels, food, and even light bulbs to receive medical care.

The woes continue. Cuba’s health care system is often praised for its focus on preventive care, which helps to prevent the spread of diseases and development of illnesses. However, beyond the fact that this preventive care is low quality for the average Cuban, the Cuban system of preventive care deprives them of their liberty.

Doctors make unannounced visits to patients’ homes to assess their compliance with health guidelines, and Cuba has historically even placed individuals into internment camps to prevent the spread of illnesses, such as HIV.

Finally, there’s the problem of Cuban doctors. Many Cuban doctors are driven, caring individuals who want to protect and improve the lives of those around them. However, these doctors are forced into wretched conditions by the Cuban government. The average Cuban doctor makes somewhere between $30 and $50 a month, hardly enough to pay for a single meal at a mid-range Cuban restaurant.

When shipped abroad as part of Cuba’s doctor export program, the conditions get even worse. Doctors abroad can make slightly more money, but between 75% and 90% of their salary is kept by the Cuban government.

And living abroad is no escape from the Cuban regime. Doctors working internationally are subjected to forced curfews and constant surveillance by security officials. They are required to hand over their passports upon arrival at their destination, and part of their salary is withheld until they return to Cuba, all in a bid to discourage defection.  

Even worse, these doctors are often nonconsensually thrust into violent situations and gang warfare in countries, such as Venezuela.

Doctors who have defected have detailed horror stories about such situations, including having guns pointed at them while operating, abuse, rape, and death threats.

Unsurprisingly, doctors operating internationally are also directed to falsify statistics. Each doctor is required to report a life saved each day, regardless of whether or not they actually do, and doctors have at times been directed to deny patients transfers or critical treatment as to count them in a particular statistic.

In spite of all of this evidence that the Cuban health care system is not what it seems, the American far left and members of the international community have continued to laud the system—until recently.

As protests broke out across Cuba last week—fueled in part by the country’s widespread vaccination failures, but primarily in response to decades of repressive communist rule—the American media and far left were reluctant to take the “unpopular” stance of criticizing the authoritarian communist Cuban government.

Instead, they have attributed the protests to the Cuban health care system’s COVID-19 failures, blamed America for Cuba’s problems, or haven’t said anything at all.

Their ordinary defense of the Cuban health care system has been conspicuously absent.

Between the pandemic and the recent protests, then, it has become clear that the Cuban health care system is not what it seems. The left and the international community have acknowledged that, either explicitly through their criticisms of the system’s failures with respect to pandemic or implicitly through their unwillingness to defend the system.

In short, the Cuban health care myths are finally unraveling.

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