Public Health in Cuba / Rebeca Monzo

Waiting for healthcare in Cuba.

Rebeca Monzo, 7 January 2018 — First of all, to be properly treated in any hospital, you have to have a friend who is a doctor or a friend who is very close to the doctor you are going to see, in addition to bringing a gift — something already established — to be able to enter the office at all, without asking where the end of the line is and to “set a good precedent.”

The journey to be seen in the normal way is long and tedious: first you must go to the family doctor, where you are probably seen by a student, or a recent graduate without experience. They will ask you questions and fill out paperwork, without listening or paying attention, and will give you a referral to go to the polyclinic you are assigned to, where there are always long waiting lines and you will almost never find a specialist, so you will need to return constantly until there is one, as they work in hospitals and from time to time come to the polyclinics to practice.

If your case is serious, they will send you to the hospital, where a foreign student may attend you, because almost all of our best Cuban doctors and specialists are out of the country, serving on a “mission” in Haiti, Brazil, Venezuela or any other place in the world, which has contracts with the Cuban government to supply doctors and health specialists, who receive only a small percentage in foreign currency of the money that these countries pay to the government of the island for these “missions.” This exchange, which benefits the government greatly and the health professional very little, is called “solidarity.”

In our polyclinics and hospitals, at the moment, the most visible characteristic is the lack of hygiene and medicines and, in some cases, even a lack of professionalism, except for honorable exceptions that prove the rule.

The employees in charge of cleaning do not have the necessary products and resources nor do they receive decent salaries to promote good hospital hygiene.

Lamentably, as in all agencies and service centers in the country, politics is the priority and not hygiene, nor good service, nor professionalism. Where this is painfully more notable is precisely in polyclinics and health centers, where the sick population has to face all kinds of difficulties that threaten good hospital service.

This is true even in some of the newly restored hospitals such as the Calixto García, where the last generation stretchers are in precarious and depressing hygienic conditions, as is the furniture of the waiting rooms, and the bedside tables in the wards full of cockroaches, dehulled and dried out, bathrooms with broken facilities, leaks and puddles of water, where patients must walk at risk of slipping and falling.

When patients are admitted, the doctor who sees them informs the patient’s companion that they must bring sheets, pillows and pillow cases, a fan, soap and other hygiene items, as well as plastic bags to store belongings, so that the cockroaches do not crawl all over those items owned by the patient.

Despite the lack of hygiene and medicines, we must recognize that our doctors are excellent people, but how can it be said in the media that our country is a world benchmark for healthcare, when there is no protection of life here and medical errors ‘cover the earth’.