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In Cuba healthcare is a human right

7 May 2020

Health workers the world over have been at the forefront of figuring out this new pandemic that has overwhelmed all of our lives. With no clear treatment, no vaccine and no way of completely stopping the spread of Covid-19, lockdown has been the course of action for many countries including South Africa.

In many press conferences by politicians and medics alike, the reason for the lockdown in South Africa was explained as a measure to flatten the curve so as not to overwhelm our fragile healthcare system. In the interim South Africa has received large donations of personal protective equipment that is vital for medical staff treating Covid-19 patients and hospitals have been visited and assessed for their readiness to receive the many patients that are expected at the pandemic’s peak.

Cuba has, at the request of many countries, sent medical brigades to augment their health systems and on 26 April a medical brigade made up of 217 family physicians, epidemiologists, biostatists, healthcare technology engineers, biotechnology experts, among other specialists, arrived in South Africa.

It is remarkable that in Cuba, healthcare is free to everyone and so is education. In so many countries across the world, healthcare is unaffordable to the majority with medical aids, private clinics and pharmaceutical companies at the forefront of financialising this basic human right. Education is beyond the reach of many in most countries due to its exorbitant cost and many graduates are often burdened by large student debt.

In response to the arrival of the Cuban brigade Mr Rodolfo Benitez Verson, Ambassador of Cuba in South Africa said,  “We live in a country where most of us work together to improve the lives of everyone and not just a few. We are very proud of our system and of our doctors, who are not looking for big payments or luxuries. Their priority is to save lives.”

Explaining the controversy around payment to the doctors Verson said, “With part of the income contributed by Cuba’s medical services, legitimate in any UN South-South  co-operation scheme by which they are governed, costly supplies are acquired for the entire population, including diagnostic tests, supplies for the Cuban  pharmaceutical industry and biotechnology, cancer treatments, etc. These are resources to which doctors working abroad and their families also have free access. The Cuban experience is based on the notion that access to health care for all is a human right. In our case, that obligation and responsibility is written in the Constitution. In Cuba nobody has to pay a cent for health care services, even for the most complex medical procedures.”

Since the pandemic began,  23 Cuban medical brigades with around 1 500 health professionals have travelled to other lands, always responding to the request for help from those countries, including Italy, Andorra, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Mexico, Suriname, Jamaica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Granada, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Saint Lucia, Dominica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Haiti, Barbados, Qatar, Togo, Cape Verde, Angola, South Africa, Honduras and Trinidad and Tobago.

Many countries with healthcare systems far better than South Africa’s have been found lacking with horrific visuals of overwhelmed hospitals, infected medics, unattended patients and unattended bodies splashed across our screens. As South Africa gradually lifts its lockdown and the numbers of Covid-19 infected people increase with the peak predicted to be in July according to Dr Zweli Mkhize, South Africa’s Minister of Health, the Cuban medical brigade were welcomed by Dr Mkhize and President Cyril Ramaphosa who highlighted the strong, historical bonds between the two nations.

 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
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February/March 2020

 
 
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