By Nina Notman (chemistryworld.com)
Cuba lies approximately 90 miles off the southern tip of Florida, US. Yet life on the island couldn’t be more different from that of its rich neighbour. The approximately 11 million people who live in this socialist country have limited internet access, and are regularly frustrated by shortages of basic groceries such as milk. But on the flip side, healthcare and education at every level is free for all.
Socialist Cuba is the brainchild of Fidel Castro, who in 1959 overthrew the country’s US-supported regime and aligned Cuba with the Soviet Union. As Cuba’s relationship with the US continued to sour, US president John F Kennedy placed an official embargo on all trade between the US and Cuba in 1962. The embargo remains in place today, and also affects Cuba’s trade with most other countries.
While the implications of this embargo for Cubans are widespread, in some endeavours the country has managed to achieve great things with very little money and other resources. ‘[Cuba’s] medical services are quite fantastic,’ explains Graham Richards, a chemistry professor at the University of Oxford, UK. Richards collaborates with researchers at the University of Havana and has visited Cuba a number of times.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Cuba’s health indicators are comparable with those of highly developed countries. Its free education system has produced nearly three times the density of doctors – 7.5 per 1000 population – than in the US and UK. And the majority of the medical equipment and medicines used in Cuba have been developed and produced within the country.