Por Imti Choonara, Emeritus Professor in Child Health
Politicians can have a significant effect on child health. Fidel Castro who recently passed away had a significant impact on child health, not only in Cuba, but worldwide. He ensured Cuba introduced free universal health care, with a focus on primary health care and prevention. To ensure adequate delivery of health care, Cuba trained its own doctors. Medical students receive free education and are guaranteed a job on qualification. They accept that they will be posted where they are needed, including rural areas.
Child mortality rates in Cuba are lower than in the USA, a remarkable achievement for a lower middle income country. Even during the special period when the Cuban economy crashed, public services were protected. This was a conscious political decision by the Cuban government and contrasts sharply with the austerity programme of most governments.
Internationally, Cuba has always responded to emergencies and disasters in other countries, sending health professionals around the world. More than 19,000 children affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster have received long term treatment in Cuba. Cuba now has over 50,000 health professionals working in over 67 countries. A key feature of the work of Cuban health professionals overseas is that they work in areas of greatest need. These are often rural areas where the local indigenous population has previously not had any access to healthcare. This commitment to global child health was a personal project of Fidel Castro. Fidel’s legacy to children is free healthcare and education.