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Sun Feb 1, 2015, 04:11 AM

Field notes: What Cuba can teach us about building a culture of health

Field notes: What Cuba can teach us about building a culture of health
Maryjoan Ladden and Susan Mende • January 31, 2015

Ever since President Obama announced the restoration of diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba, there’s been growing excitement over the potential for new opportunities for tourism, as well as technology and business exchanges. Most people assume that the flow will be one-sided, with the United States providing expertise and investment to help Cuba’s struggling economy and decaying infrastructure.That assumption would be wrong. America can—and already has—learned a lot from Cuba. At RWJF, we supportMEDICC, an organization that strives to use lessons gleaned from Cuba’s health care system to improve outcomes in four medically underserved communities in the United States—South Los Angeles; Oakland, Calif.; Albuquerque, N.M.; and the Bronx, N.Y. Even with very limited resources, Cuba has universal medical and dental care and provides preventive strategies and primary care at the neighborhood level, resulting in enviable health outcomes. Cuba has a low infant mortality rate and the lowest HIV rate in the Americas, for example—with a fraction of the budget spent in the United States.

This past October we traveled to Cuba to see for ourselves how health and well-being are integrated into daily life. We wanted to learn firsthand about best practices that might be adapted to improve the health of residents in our own low-income communities. It’s important to recognize, though, that all is not ideal in Cuba. Poverty is widespread, the government is restrictive and many freedoms and access to information that we take for granted are not available to Cubans.Our trip was focused on the health system, and there was a lot to learn. We visited schools, local health clinics, farms, and senior centers across the Havana area where we spoke with government officials, doctors, nurses, teachers, and Cubans of every age and many occupations. The journey was eye-opening: We saw how concerns about public health are deeply imbued in every aspect of daily life and play a part in every government decision. Staying healthy is considered a national responsibility, a message that consistently comes from the top, originating with Fidel Castro himself. If you keep fit and stay healthy you help your neighbors, your community, and Cuba.

How is this Culture of Health so deeply woven into Cuban society? For starters, the resources for maintaining health are free, universal, and available in every community. The central government views education, housing, public safety, and other national issues all through the lens of health. At a middle school, for example, students learn about nutrition and medicinal herbs along with physics and chemistry. Not far from our hotel in Havana, some streets were unpaved and buildings were in serious disrepair—yet the government had installed new pedestrian and vehicle countdown lights at crossings. When we asked why, we were told that there had been a lot of accidents on the road, so putting a system in place that lets pedestrians know they have 10 seconds left to safely cross the street is considered a good investment in public health.

Cuba’s health care system is not perfect. Medical records are still all paper, medicines are not always easy to come by, and people can wait a long time for dental and other care. But despite having few economic resources, the Cuban government has an effective system in place for offering its residents support at the community level for maintaining and improving their health.

More:
http://progresoweekly.us/field-notes-cuba-can-teach-us-building-culture-health/

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