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Vol. 71/No. 25      June 25, 2007

'íSalud!' shows Cuba's health care system, internationalism
(In Review column)
íSalud! 2006 documentary, 93 minutes, directed by Connie Field, produced by Connie Field and Gail Reed.

SAN FRANCISCO—Filmed in South Africa, the Gambia, Honduras, Venezuela, and Cuba, this documentary depicts the huge inequalities in health care in the world. It shows the needless misery and suffering of millions from curable diseases like malaria, lack of clean water, lack of sanitation facilities, malnutrition, and other life-and-death issues.

The film shows Cuba is the example to be emulated with its universal health care system—a right for all free of charge. Doctors live and work in their communities and travel to the remotest rural parts of the island to provide health care. Despite Washington’s economic war against Cuba, complex surgeries are provided for all who need them.

The film goes back and forth between the advances in medical care in Cuba and scenes of Cuban doctors aiding impoverished toilers around the world to the best of their ability with the limited resources that exist in semicolonial countries.

The documentary points out that since 1963, when its first internationalist medical team was sent to Algeria, Cuba has sent some 100,000 doctors to 101 countries to provide medical aid, including in some of the world’s remotest corners.

These medical volunteers provide health services where native-born doctors—who prefer a high standard of living, and earn lots more through private practice—do not want to go. For example, in Honduras, after the 1998 hurricane, Cuban doctors provided invaluable care in areas where few doctors would go, as they do in Venezuela today.

Cuba also has set up medical and nursing schools, including the Latin American School of Medicine in Cuba, which trains students from all over the world—from Africa to the United States. After graduating, the students return home to work where they are most needed.

In the film liberal politicians and professionals from the United States praise Cuba’s health care system. Former U.S. president James Carter says Cuba could compete with the U.S. medical system, pointing to the low cost of the care.

Representative Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi and member of the Congressional Black Caucus, notes that of 23 counties in Mississippi, 22 are underserved. He pointed out that Cubans have a lower infant mortality rate and live longer than many of his constituents.

Harvard Medical School professor Paul Farmer makes the point that Cuba shows what underdeveloped countries can do to put in place a comprehensive health care system.

The premise of the film is that any poor country can do what Cuba has done. It is just a matter of will, of good people wanting to help, of training doctors and sending them out in the world—good people doing good things.

This message is wrong and misleading.

The documentary is beautifully filmed, has some wonderful scenes with Cuban doctors and their interactions with patients and friends, both within Cuba and in other countries. It includes footage of the ravages caused by lack of health care in Cuba before the revolution.

However, it gives the impression that you can transfer Cuba’s medical techniques and practices without a thoroughgoing revolutionary change of government and society.

The reason Cuba was able to implement a universal health care system, providing medical care to all and sending internationalist medical brigades all over the world, is because Cuba made a socialist revolution.

In 1959 the workers and farmers of Cuba, under the leadership of the July 26 Movement and Rebel Army led by Fidel Castro, overthrew the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. This changed everything. Backed by this revolutionary government, the Cuban toilers were able to put an end to U.S. imperialist domination and class exploitation by the native capitalists, and make advances that served the interest of the vast majority.

It is impossible for any country to emulate Cuba’s sterling example in the world in health care without making a socialist revolution and forging the kind of leadership that puts the interests of humanity above everything. As the Argentine-born leader of the Cuban Revolution Ernesto Che Guevara put it, to be a revolutionary doctor you must first make a revolution.

It is this example of socialist revolution working people can emulate to be able to do what Cuba has done in health care or other fields.
Related articles:
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'A book that will be used to learn to fight—and win'
Presentation of 'Our History Is Still Being Written' at
festival on 160 years of Chinese presence in Cuba
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