Cuba at a Glance
Healthcare and Education in Cuba
Contrary to what you might expect Cuba has an extensive public healthcare system, to which all citizens enjoy equal access. Particularly in the 1980s, Cuba’s healthcare system underwent several reforms and redevelopment. This is one of the reasons why Cubans have the highest life expectancy in the geographical region.
Healthcare Services in Cuba
As mentioned above, the public healthcare system in Cuba covers all citizens. Private hospitals, doctor’s practices and other private medical facilities do not exist. Instead, all health-related facilities and services are run by the government. Universal vaccinations and other universal programs have almost eradicated diseases like polio, rubella, tuberculosis, or chicken pox. For decades, Cuba has been known to have a large staff of well-trained medical specialists at hand. The research sector is strong as well, particularly in the field of biotechnology or epidemiological studies on chronic diseases.
Health tourism is a major contributor to the Cuban economy. More than 20,000 people travel to the small Caribbean country each year to receive medical treatment. Many hospitals have special divisions and trained staff to serve the needs of foreign patients. Most medical tourists are from Europe, Canada, or Latin America.
Since 2010, tourists and expats are obligated to secure health insurance which is valid for their stay in Cuba and approved by the Cuban government. However, even if you are covered, you need to keep in mind that medical facilities do not accept checks or credit cards. So make sure to bring enough cash when you visit a hospital or clinic.
Issues of the Healthcare System
The fall of the socialist bloc and the tightening of the US embargo in the early 90s put a strain on Cuba’s economy. Its healthcare system threatened to collapse as the budget for medicine and medical equipment shrunk by 70%. However, the health of Cuba’s population remained stable. This is due to the fact that healthcare remained a high priority for the government.
Today, the lack of medical equipment still takes a toll on medical care. Particularly the specialized medical fields were harmed in the 1990s, when special equipment and medication was scarce and hard to come by. Although, medical professionals were widely available, they could not make up for the dire condition of Cuba’s healthcare facilities.
In 2004, Cuba’s government implemented a national program to renew the country’s 444 polyclinics. They even chose 52 hospitals and tertiary institutes to be remodeled to become “centers of excellence”. The first of these centers were completed in 2006. However, there are more to come and Cuba still has a long way to go in living up to its reputation of having one of the best healthcare systems.
Education in Cuba
Every since the Cuban revolution in the 1950s, the country’s education system has improved fundamentally. As is the case with healthcare in Cuba, education is public and free for all citizens and literacy is at 99.8%. Before the big changes the revolution brought, it was particularly the rural population which did not have access to basic education. Today, a large school network provides education in all corners of the Cuban island.
Keep in mind that, because educational facilities are usually run by the government, international and private education is extremely scarce. There are merely two international schools in Cuba: the International School of Havana and the École Française de La Havana. If you are unable to send your children to one of these schools, you should consider arranging for Spanish lessons in order to prepare them for the local schools.