Cuban health care
Nip and tuck in
Medicine is big business in Cuba
Nov 17th 2012 | HAVANA
SET in a former naval academy overlooking the Florida Straits, the Latin
American School of Medicine (ELAM) is supposed to symbolise Cuba's
generosity. Founded by Fidel Castro in 1999, the school's mission was to
provide free training to medical students from all over the world. But
these days, visiting foreign dignitaries are given a sales pitch along
with their campus tours.
As part of President Raúl Castro's attempt to stem his brother's
spending, many nations that send students to the school are now expected
to pay. Just how much isn't entirely clear, but the rates are high
enough to cause embarrassment to some of the customers. John Mahama,
Ghana's new president and a staunch ally of Cuba, has been obliged to
defend what looks like a pricey deal he signed with ELAM as vice-president.
Cuba's government has never been coy about the sale of its medical
services abroad. Official figures show that professionals working
overseas—largely in medicine—bring in around $6 billion a year (though
the doctors themselves receive only a small fraction of the revenue).
Most of that comes from Venezuela, which trades subsidised oil for
legions of Cuban health workers. But reports in Namibia suggest that
prices for services there are rising, too.
In Cuba itself, meanwhile, private medicine is readily available to
paying foreigners and well-connected locals. The two best hospitals in
Havana, Cira García and CIMEX, are run for profit. Both are far better
than normal state hospitals, where patients are often obliged to bring
their own sheets and food.
But health care is now also available on the buoyant black market. A
current vogue for breast implants is providing extra income to many
surgeons (whose state salary is around $20 a month). The director of one
of Havana's main hospitals was recently detained for running a private
health network on the side. Alongside the new restaurants that are
opening in the capital, as a result of Raúl Castro's partial easing of
economic restrictions, doctors are now less shy about selling their
services. One private dental practice in the Vedado district is notably
well-equipped with a snazzy dentist's chair and implements.
These medical entrepreneurs run the risk of prosecution. If caught, they
may be tempted to argue that they are simply following the government's