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, according to the WHO, Cubans not only have the highest life expectancy in the geographical region, but also place among the top five highest in the world.
Indeed, in 2014, the country was praised by Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO, as a world leader in the medical sphere, for not only the extent and quality of its care but also for the systems strong link with research and innovation.
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.
Furthermore, the small budget means that Cuba had to invent a unique approach to healthcare. It consists of compulsory health checks in order to put an emphasis on prevention. In fact, preventing a disease, or catching it at an early phase, is less expensive for the public healthcare system. This means that every Cuban has at least one annual health check-up, which often is done at home by local doctors or nurses.
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. An example of their achievements is that Cuba became the first country in the world to receive WHO validation that it successfully eliminated mother-to-child transmission of syphilis and HIV.
For years, medical tourism has played an important role in the Cuban economy. Brought to the fore in news media by former football star Diego Maradona’s drug rehabilitation in 2000, an ever-increasing amount of foreigners arrive on Cuban soil to take advantage of the medical service, both vital and cosmetic.
More than 2.8 million tourists travelled to Cuba in 2012. Although no solid figures can be provided for how many went for medical reasons, there are at least several thousand that did so just for this reason. Not only do many hospitals have special divisions and trained staff to serve the needs of foreign patients, but the government recently created Servimed, alongside CSMC, with the charge of promoting medical services to foreigners.
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.
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.
Ever since the Cuban revolution in the 1950s, the country’s education system has fundamentally improved. UNESCO rates Cuba as the best education system in Latin America, despite being one of the less developed countries in the region.
However, this is unsurprising, as, alongside the medical sector, the education sector lies at the center of the government ethos and it invests 13% of its GDP there (as of 2014). 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 very few international schools in Cuba: among them, the International School of Havana and the École Française de La Havana. They are very expensive (the tuition fee is 12,600 USD and 9320 USD for grades 11 and 12, respectively), so 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.
As for university education, the government is planning to implement education reforms in 2016-2017. Their reforms’ objective is to improve undergraduate studies, which are deemed to take too long. They will be shortened to four years, as in a lot of other countries. The other objective is to test the students for their English language skills before graduating. In fact, a lot of Cuban professionals are not able to speak English fluently.
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