The comment came back to haunt Sanders in the wake of Castro’s death. On Sunday on ABC’s This Week, host Martha Raddatz played the old clip and then asked Sanders if he was aware that “this was a brutal dictatorship despite the romanticized version that some Americans have of Cuba.” She reminded Sanders that Castro rationed food and punished dissidents, then hit him with the big question: “So have you changed your view of Castro since 1985?”
Sanders said he didn’t exactly remember the context for his comment (being 31 years ago) but that Cubans “do have a decent health-care system.”
Many consider it more than decent. After a visit to Havana in 2014, the director-general of the World Health Organization Margaret Chan called for other countries to follow Cuba’s example in health care. Years before, the World Health Organization’s ranking of countries with “the fairest mechanism for health-system finance” put Cuba first among Latin American and Caribbean countries (and far ahead of the United States).
All of this despite Cuba spending just $813 per person annually on health care compared with America’s $9,403.
In Cuba, health care is protected under the constitution as a fundamental human right. As a poor country, Cuba can’t afford to equivocate and waste money upholding that. This pressure seems to have created efficiency. Instead of pouring money into advanced medical technology, the system is forced to keep people healthy.
It’s largely done, as the BBC has reported, through an innovative approach to primary care. Family doctors work in clinics and care for everyone in the surrounding neighborhood. At least once a year, the doctor knocks on your front door (or elsewhere, if you prefer) for a check-up. More than the standard American ritual of listening to your heart and lungs and asking if you’ve noticed any blood coming out of you abnormally, these check-ups involve extensive questions about jobs and social lives and environment—information that’s aided by being right there in a person’s home.
Then the doctors put patients into risk categories and determine how often they need to be seen in the future. Unlike the often fragmented U.S. system where people bounce around between specialists and hospitals, Cuba fosters a holistic approach centered around on a relationship with a primary-care physician. Taxpayer investment in education about smoking, eating, and exercising comes directly from these family doctors—who people trust, and who can tailor recommendations.
The system requires around twice as many primary-care doctors per capita as we have in the U.S., made possible because the country also invested in medical education, creating in 1998 what U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called “the world’s most advanced medical school.” Cuba has become known for training not just domestic doctors, but those from around the world—and sending its doctors to help other, wealthier countries when needed. During the recent Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, more than 100 Cuban doctors and nurses were at the front lines.
Castro justified sending so much support with a brutally holistic understanding of disease as a global phenomenon. He wrote at the time: “By completing this task with maximum planning and efficiency, our people and sister peoples of the Caribbean and Latin America will be protected, preventing expansion of the epidemic, which has unfortunately already been introduced, and could spread, in the United States, which maintains many personal ties and interactions with the rest of the world.”
The much wealthier U.S. also has vaccines and primary-care check-ups, of course. The key difference is that in Cuba, these things are mandatory. They’re seen as akin to doing routine maintenance on a car to keep the warranty valid. If the system is going to take care of people in dire situations, people must also let the system take care of them before those dire situations occur.
This is the opposite of the U.S., where people demand the former but forego the latter. There are costly barriers to primary care and preventive medicine, but showing up at an emergency room is easy.
Read the full article at The Atlantic