Cuba Provided 99 million Medical Consultations in 2018, Minister Says

Havana, Dec 28 (Prensa Latina) Medical consultations done in Cuba in 2018 amounted to 99 million, the head of the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) Jose Angel Portal said on Friday.

Of that total, 86.2 million consultations corresponded to primary care level, four million more than a year ago, Portal argued on his Twitter account.

That is preventive medicine that we are enhancing! In 2019 #VamosPorMas, he added in the message.

Also on the same social network, MINSAP reported that Minister Portal headed this Friday the last meeting of the year with the provincial directors of health.

The fundamental axis of the debate is the analysis of essential issues for the development of Public Health towards 2019, the tweet adds.

  • Published in Cuba

Natural therapies, a viable healthcare option

Cuba’s medical protocols for different ailments suggest the complementary use of therapies based on natural and traditional medicine, since patients respond well with the integration of this treatment, according to the country’s experts.

“Natural and traditional medicine is not the solution to poverty, but it is an option of wealth,” Raúl Castro Ruz.

The combination of natural and traditional methods with conventional treatment recommended by Cuban doctors has generated a body of knowledge that supports precise medical attention and serves to extend academic training.

Natural and traditional medicine is understood as a broad profile clinical specialty with a unique, holistic scientific focus, using techniques and procedures to promote health, prevent disease, make diagnosis, treat and rehabilitate with a medical approach based on ancestral practices and non-Western cultures.

Its principal goal is establishing a balance or correcting imbalances in human beings, based on medical thinking that considers the person as a unique whole, taking into account the individual, not just the illness. It includes awareness of the interdependence of human beings and the environment, and the impact on health of lifestyles.

This discipline bases selection of therapies on individual criteria that have as a foundation specific concepts related to health and its affectations, which generate effective, safe, and efficient treatments, since they address intrinsic causes of ailments.

This approach is used in Cuba at the primary care level and in hospitals, based on a systematic, nationwide state plan of action. The program includes ensuring the production, distribution, and sales of natural products; guaranteed medical attention; training of personnel; ongoing research and the generalization of findings; health promotion and education; in addition to supervision and evaluation of measures adopted.

All of this is captured in the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines, approved by Congresses of the Communist Party of Cuba, and framed within the context of transformations underway in Cuban society. Guideline no. 158 from the Sixth Congress reads: Afford maximum attention to the development of Natural and Traditional Medicine; and no. 132 from the Seventh calls for ensuring the implementation of action plans to guarantee the development and consolidation of Natural and Traditional Medicine.

Dr. Silvia González Rodríguez, secretary of the Cuban Society of Natural and Traditional Medicine, and specialist Dr. Gilsa Asunción Cabrera Leal, believe that this approach offers patients another medical option. Photo: Nuria Barbosa

Dr. Silvia González Rodríguez, secretary of the Cuban Society of Natural and Traditional Medicine and president of the advisory committee working with Havana’s University of Medical Sciences, explained to Granma International that the field includes traditional Chinese methods, as well as therapeutic procedures practiced by the island’s original peoples and from the long legacy of folk medicine in Cuba.

“The fundamental push for its introduction in Cuba was determined by the shortage of medications in the 1990s, caused by the economic crisis that we know as the Special Period. Today we have consolidated work carried out over 25 years. Our medical protocols for different ailments suggest the use of therapies based on natural and traditional medicine, since with the integration of this treatment, a better evolution for patients is achieved,” explained Dr. González.


The first course in acupuncture for doctors was offered in Cuba in 1962. In 1973, the “Dr. Juan Tomás Roig” medicinal plants station was established, and in 1975, the first surgery with acupuncture anesthesia was performed at Comandante Manuel Fajardo Hospital.

In 1988, the Central Pharmaceutical Laboratory attached to Havana’s University of Medical Sciences was founded, and in the 1990s several ministerial resolutions were approved to extend the use of these practices throughout the country. The Cuban Society of Bio-energetic and Natural Medicine was founded in 1996.

The first academic programs for Masters in Natural and Traditional Medicine were initiated in this decade, while in 1998 the first edition of Cuba’s Journal of Medicinal Plants was published. With the turn of the century, the subject was introduced in medical school study plans, and advanced studies became available in all provinces. More than 35% of community family doctor’s offices now have the necessary supplies to practice acupuncture and related techniques.

Among Natural and Traditional Medicine treatments offered in Cuba. Photo: Jose M. Correa

“In the courses to train specialists, we teach a series of techniques and procedures approved by our national public health system – ten at this time. In this, we integrate modern medical thinking with elements of natural, traditional medicine,” Dr. González reported.

Every year, a convocation is issued to encourage the training of specialists, and many Comprehensive General Medicine doctors, as well as others who wish to pursue a second specialty, enroll in the three-year course that includes all modalities of natural and traditional treatment recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO), according to expert Dr. Gilsa Asunción Cabrera Leal.

“In the health technology department, there are eight major areas of study, and plans are under consideration to offer a class on natural and traditional medicine. Medical school programs have conceived a rotation in this specialty, and all teach the basic principles of the specialty with emphasis on acupressure, acupuncture, and other techniques,” explained the doctor, also a health administration specialist.

She added that eight short courses have been offered nationally for doctors in other specialties, prior to which a methodological workshop was held for those who would be delivering classes, to ensure consistency and update the bibliography to be used. Audio-conferences and other digital media were used to make the information available to more professionals.

Havana was recently the site of the Cuban Society of Natural and Traditional Medicine’s Sixth Congress, BIONAT 2018 (September 4-7), where a broad exchange of experiences took place. Of special note was the Indigenous and Afro-descendent Traditional Medicine Symposium, sponsored by the Pan American Health Organization.

Also held in this context were the Second Cuba-Japan Integrative Medicine Symposium; debates on issues like ozone therapy; complementary traditional medicine at the primary care level; and training of professionals.

The Cuban Society had a stand featuring expositions from the Traditional, Complementary, Integrative Medicine Network of the Americas, and held a natural nutritionist session, as well.

Dr. Cabrera Leal participated in a panel discussion on homeopathy, presenting the experience she gained in offering the eight programs in several provinces, commenting, “We additionally offered an open class on the use of natural and traditional medicine in the event of disasters, and presented the work of our Health Technology faculty in building ties with the community.”


The doctor invited Granma International to visit her office, where we met several patients who have benefited from this approach. A seven-year-old girl, Lía de Jesús Pérez y Borge, was there seeking treatment for frequent intestinal Giardia infections.

Her mother, Odette, reported that she first came to the clinic about a year ago, on the suggestion of friends whose children had been treated here for attention deficit. The doctor provided self-help exercises and floral therapy.

Likewise, Dilsia Rosa Verdecia, 45 years of age, has been receiving help with her allergies for a number of years. She had been prescribed antihistamines, but complementing these with homeopathy, she said, has been more effective. Niurka Herrera Sabarría was visiting for the first time, referred by her orthopedic doctor, seeking help with pain in her legs.

All agreed in pointing out that this type of treatment helps heal the body, reinforce the immune system, strengthen doctor-patient relations, reduce the use of chemical medications, and has fewer side effects and risks than other treatments.

With Life On the Shoulder

Come hell or high water, nameless and committed crews travel the cities every day distributing door-to-door of patients oxygen bottles that guarantee their lives.

It doesn't matter if it’s raining or overcasted, neither if there’s no electricity and they have to climb six flight of dark stairs; anyway, they will be there every day with the oxygen bottles on the shoulder.

After getting around those and other obstacles like mad dogs or shattered stair steps, they will call punctual to the house where a Cuban awaits for the oxygen that will allow him to keep living.

Eduardo Mario Blasco, driver of the crew, explains that they work under the Company of Industrial Gases, but it’s MINSAP the one that hands down the list of patients.

The fleet of almost 15 or 20 trucks has its base in Guanabacoa and, after the daily meeting, they depart to distribute life. “We go around the entire Havana city and also Mayabeque, Artemisa, and Güines."

Every day we distribute a rate of 40 large bottles, "but there are days of 60 and 70. We have odd hours either early morning or night time. I have had back-to-back days because the truck broke."

Eduardo Mario has worked in this for six years, before that he was a truck driver for 30 years. On board the truck prepared to transport the large bottles also go two young loaders.

"There aren’t Saturdays neither Sundays in this job, journalist. This is really a matter of life or death; if you don’t change an empty bottle for a full one, simply the sick person can die".

Says Danilo González, 27 years old, loader.

“It’s true that sometimes one feels like staying asleep, of not getting wet by rain, or of not climbing those stairways with more than a hundred pounds on shoulders. But it’s a humanitarian matter, one understands well when looking at the situation of other people who are waiting for you".

- Have there been cases where a relationship of friendship is created?

- Almost all of them. We call them through our mobiles, paying us, to know if we can stop by, if the door is locked; because the bottle must be set next to the patient ‘s bed.

- How many stairs do you climb daily?

- Countless because most of our patients live in Plaza, Centro Habana and Habana Vieja municipalities, where there are plenty of tall buildings. If we have five houses at ground level in the deliveries, that is a win. Everything is upstairs , downstairs five or six floors, because there aren’t many elevators.

- What do you friends tell you about your work?

- They simply stay silent. They know I am a loader, but they don’t imagine the real work I do. Those who see me on the street might think what’s so hard about getting carried around on a truck, but it’s not like that. It’s hard, besides the physical effort, you encounter sad stories, and also the treatment of a few patients.

Although, regularly, tight relationships are created, almost of familiarity. There are always, of course says the loader, those who protest when you deliver the oxygen bottle very early and they wanted to sleep later into the morning.

"Sometimes – says Danilo - we have arrived late at night at a house because the truck broke and when you finally arrive at the place, after such ordeals, they yell at you and complain, they tell you "are these hours to bring the oxygen, you must wait until tomorrow... nobody will wake up at this hour”.

"One can get mad at hearing those words, but you must think it over and tell yourself that is part of the job, where you care about other people, but they don’t always care about us."

Luckily, situations like this one are numbered with one hand.

The truck driver remembers that " we have cases where hot coffee and cool water are plentiful. One build friendships, and there are times when you are given a t-shirt, a pair of pants... "

Every day of the world

Eduardo Mario, the truck driver, comments of possible hazards in the job: "Grease is a mortal enemy of oxygen. The bottles cannot be manipulated neither with grease neither oil in the hands, nothing that contains lubricants, because they are flammable."

- Have you ever had an accident?

- Well, a bottle once fell on my foot, but those occupational hazards... Because I just not only sit behind the wheel, I also help downloading the bottles.

"The two boys and me have also made some sort of a family. We are neighbors, they live next to the factory and in this job which is every day of the world, I take advantage and I explain things to them.

“I tell them we don't distribute wood, neither iron, nor cement; that this is a job for the person who needs it as matter of life or death, hence responsibility to the job comes first. I will soon turn 60 years old, but I watched them be born and I have seen them grown to become good people."

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Cuba ratifies its commitment to universal and free health before PAHO

The Minister of Public Health, José Ángel Portal, ratified Cuba's commitment to the Pan American Health Organization and its member states to guarantee universal access to health services and strengthen its system of health care.

During his intervention in the 56th Directing Council of the international organism, the Cuban minister pointed out that his country fulfilled the goal of Health for All before the year 2000, covering one hundred percent of the population, in a free and totally accessible way, according to information published in the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Despite the damage caused by the criminal, genocidal and unjust blockade imposed by the United States on our country for more than half a century, the political will to raise the health levels of the people prevails in Cuba, he said.

The minister noted, among the main results of the Caribbean nation, a life expectancy at birth of 78.45 years, an infant mortality rate of less than five per thousand live births during a decade and the eradication of 14 infectious diseases.

Portal regretted that "40 years after the Alma-Ata Declaration, many countries in the region have not yet managed to sufficiently address the social and environmental determinants of health to move towards universal health.

Correcting these inequalities, the enormous health differences that can be solved within each country and between countries, is an ethical imperative for all, if we consider that health is an essential component for sustainable human development, he said.

In this regard, the Cuban Minister reiterated the willingness of the Island to share its modest experiences in the field of organization and provision of comprehensive health services, as well as in the development of the medical, pharmaceutical and biotechnological industries with the noble purpose of achieving universal coverage and access in any region of the world.

Cuba attends the LVI Directing Council of the Pan American Health Organization, which meets September 23-27 in Washington, where the headquarters of this international organization is located. (ACN)

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Brasil Popular Highlights Preference for Cuban Female Physicians

Brasilia, Jun 24 (Prensa Latina) The express preference for the care provided by Cuban female physicians who are rendering their services in the Single Healthcare System (SUS) was highlighted here today in the 56th issue of the newspaper Brasil Popular

This is shown by several surveys carried out by academic and scientific institutions, like the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) and the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, said the publication, which recalled the beginning of the More Doctors program, launched in 2013 by then President Dilma Rousseff.

The newspaper added that the Cuban doctors were harassed, disrespected and slandered by Brazilian medical institutions, with support from big media organizations, which are insensitive to the needs of the majority of the people to have health professionals who are willing to do a competitive, humanistic and friendly work.

'Rapidly, thanks to their competence, ethics and dedication, the Cuban doctors, mainly women, went from being damned to be the favorite by SUS users,' Brasil Popular pointed out.

The Cuban female doctors, who had to face the racism and machismo with which they were welcomed by Brazilian institutions, are decorated now for their absolute, spontaneous and sincere preference from their patients, who fear that the coup that overthrew Rousseff will affect the program, whose approval rate exceeds 90 percent, the newspaper noted.

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Marriage may protect against heart disease/stroke and associated risk of death

Marriage may protect against the development of heart disease/stroke as well as influencing who is more likely to die of it, suggests a pooled analysis of the available data, published online in the journal Heart.

The findings prompt the researchers to suggest that marital status should be included as a risk factor for heart disease/stroke and likely survival in its own right.

Most (80%) cardiovascular disease can be attributed to well known risk factors: age; sex; high blood pressure; high cholesterol; smoking; and diabetes. But it's not clear what influences the remaining 20 per cent.

The findings of previous research on the impact of marital status have been somewhat mixed, so in a bid to clarify the issues, the authors trawled research databases for relevant published studies.

They drew on 34 out of a total of 225, all of which had been published between 1963 and 2015, and involved more than 2 million people aged between 42 and 77 from Europe, Scandinavia, North America, the Middle East, and Asia.

Pooled analysis of the data revealed that, compared with people who were married, those who weren't (never married, divorced, widowed) were at heightened risk of developing cardiovascular disease (42%) and coronary artery heart disease (16%).

Not being married was also associated with a heightened risk of dying from both coronary heart disease (42%) and stroke (55%).

When the data were broken down further, the analysis showed that divorce was associated with a 35 per cent higher risk of developing heart disease for both men and women, while widowers of both sexes were 16 per cent more likely to have a stroke.

While there was no difference in the risk of death following a stroke between the married and the unmarried, this was not the case after a heart attack, the risk of which was significantly higher (42%) among those who had never married.

The authors caution that the methods used and adjustments made for potentially influential factors varied considerably across all the studies, which may have affected the results of their analysis.

Similarly, there was no information on same sex partnerships or the quality of marriage, and the potential role of living with someone, as opposed to being married to them, was not explored.

But this is the largest study to date, with the age and ethnicity of the participants strengthening the wider applicability of the findings, the authors point out.

And there are various theories as to why marriage may be protective. These include earlier recognition of, and response to, health problems; better adherence to medication; better financial security; enhanced wellbeing; and better friendship networks.

"Future research should focus around whether marital status is a surrogate marker for other adverse health behaviour or cardiovascular risk profiles that underlies our reported findings or whether marital status should be considered as a risk factor by itself," the authors conclude.

Cuban President Heads Opening of New Hematology Institute

Havana, Jun 16 (Prensa Latina) Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel attended today the opening of a new headquarters of the Institute of Hematology and Immunology, a vital entity for diagnostic studies of these diseases and blood donation programs.

Diaz-Canel was accompanied by the second secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, who inaugurated that institution on December 2, 1966, when he served as Minister of Public Health.

The event was also attended by the current Cuban Minister and Vice President Roberto Morales and the First Secretary of the PCC Provincial Committee, Lazara Mercedes Lopez.

In the opening remarks, its director Consuelo Macias, after recalling the beginnings of the scientific institution and some of its achievements in 52 years of work, listed some of the main projections for the next five years, including rising by 90 percent the level of cure of pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

She also mentioned the introduction of traditional and massive sequencing to identify new diagnoses in hematology and immunological diseases, as well as to achieve more personalized treatments.

Macias considered essential in the sustained work of the center, the creation of the integrated program of the hemophiliac patient, its national registry and the diagnosis of primary immunodeficiency, with multi-center projects extended to the 15 provinces of the nation.

The new entity, which now has 419 employees, has among its main objectives to develop scientific research and technological innovations applied to hematological, immunological, transfusion and regenerative medicine that include clinical trials with biotechnological products.

  • Published in Cuba

Why Cuba Has a Higher Life Expectancy - the Tattered US Healthcare System

A survey compared the United States with 10 other advanced countries. The Netherlands came out on top; the United States dead last.

So frequently is the word 'freedom' employed in the political vernacular, it has come to mean whatever the listener desires.  For Mr. Trump, it is one word in the volcanic plume countering a society's rhythm, designed to attract attention. That he has garnered in spades, enough to win him the highest office in the land.

To many, freedom is an absence of worry. The desire and need for a social fabric knit well to support the basic prerequisites: food, shelter, health and education.  None of them charity, because they are an investment in the fundamental source of a society's well-being: human capital.  

The selfishness of the haves has contributed to a loss of competitiveness. The old GM was paying US$100-$200 per car in health insurance costs, and manufacturers were also forced to provide remedial education for high school graduates to enter the world of complex modern manufacturing. Neither was a similar burden on competitors from Japan and Germany. Suffice to say though that this was not the only reason for problems.

But selfishness is not all with regard to healthcare, the focus of this piece. The biggest culprit by far is general complacency. Added to a Republican majority in Congress and Donald Trump, there is little hope in the near future.

Reading about healthcare recently, I came across an article in a prestigious magazine offering a solution. Affiliated to Stanford, the authors were an MD/MBA candidate and a venture capitalist adjunct. It says it all. Why would a doctor want an MBA? It is not an uncommon program, by the way. The answer is simple and obvious: the medical profession is big business. Did the authors have a prescription? Indeed they did. Force everyone to have insurance and force insurers to insist on primary care.

As a percent of GDP, the United States spends more on healthcare than any other industrialized nation. Yet it lags far behind in measures like child and maternal mortality, life expectancy and chronic illness.

A survey last November by the New York based Commonwealth Fund compared the United States with 10 other advanced countries. The Netherlands came out on top; the United States dead last. By coincidence, the Dutch are the tallest people on earth. "U.S. adults are sicker and have the highest rates of material hardship," observed Robin Osborn who led the survey.

Of note, despite dilapidated facilities in Cuba, universal healthcare has paid off.  Life expectancy is higher than the U.S. by about a year.

The slogan 'Medicare for all' is catchy, and, were it to happen, would transform healthcare. All the same, Medicare has gaps throwing people back into the arms of insurers, and into the morass of bills from hospitals, accounting by insurers as to what is covered, and arguments back and forth; not to mention overcharges by hospitals, which have their own litany of unbelievable tales.

In the British system - under attack by the Conservatives for some time and being gradually dismantled - no one ever sees a bill. It allowed post Second World War generations of poor and disadvantaged to bring up healthy, educated children who contributed to the growth of the country.

If there is an answer to the problems in the U.S. system, it will have to come from independent experts. Profit oriented hospital corporations buying up community hospitals and headed by multi-million salaried CEOs is not the answer.  Neither are for-profit insurers. Who has the guts to pour 'liquid plumber' down this clogged-up drain? That is the real question. The Canadian politician who fought for their healthcare system is a national hero. Any takers here?

Dr Arshad M Khan is a former Professor whose comments over several decades have appeared in a wide-ranging array of print and internet media.

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