On November 2, 2019, the Tatia Oden French Memorial Foundation and Healthy Black Families traveled to Cuba with the mission of learning how the country’s health care system produces better maternal and child health outcomes, with less disparities, than the U.S., despite being subjected to the strict embargo by the U.S. over the past 60 years.
The course was offered by the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles, facilitated by faculty members, Dr. Bita Amani and Kathryn Hall-Trujillo (an African American midwife and founder of Birthing Project USA), and coordinated by the Tatia Oden French Memorial Foundation and Healthy Black Families. It allowed a group of 12 birth workers, including doulas, midwives, labor and delivery nurses, a retired OB/GYN and two public health workers to take part in an intensive immersion course in Cuba.
In coordination with professors from ENSAP (The National School of Public Health in Cuba) the group spent two weeks in an intensive course at the University of Havana to gain a better understanding of how Cuba addresses the basic physical and mental needs of all those it serves. What we at the Tatia Oden French Memorial Foundation learned is that the Cuban health care system is comprehensive, consistent, educational and supports the continuity of care for all Cubans…and it is sponsored by the government and free for all Cuban citizens.
The overall goal of this intensive course was to observe first-hand how health care is delivered in a system that centers on the preventive model of care and that has substantially less economic resources than the U.S. Ultimately, the thought was that if a country that has dealt with (and continues to deal with) so many political, social, economic struggles can produce good health outcomes for its citizens, particularly for its mothers and children, what is preventing the U.S. from achieving better outcomes? The goal of the trip was to bring back what we learned from the Cubans and how they achieve these outcomes with no resources, and weave that knowledge and skills into what we do here for our clients.
Along with classroom presentations, the group visited a primary care facility called the University Polyclinic “April 19” (the date of the Cuban Revolution) of the Plaza de la Revolucion municipality to learn how the clinic functioned. We also visited the community cultural education project “Quisicauaba” of Centro Habana and a maternity home, where we witnessed how the community cares for vulnerable, at-risk pregnant women. We then visited the Gonzalez Coro Gyneobstetric Hospital of the Plaza de la Revolucion municipality where we learned how the community genetic program is implemented and its importance in maternal and child health.
At the University Polyclinic “April 19” we learned from doctors and family nurses about how they care for pregnant women, newborns and children who are at risk. We also had an engaging dialogue with professors regarding the organization of comprehensive care for children and adolescents.
Then we were blessed with the opportunity to visit House of Grandparents of Carlos, III, where we met elders—including one as old as 101—who are fed 6 times a day, have access to a library, music, arts and crafts, and engage in intellectual discourse.
We also visited the Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), which offers sex education and medical care for children as early as the third grade as well as those in the LBGT and transgender community. Located in a huge mansion, the CENESEX proudly displays the artwork and creations of all those who use the Center
Next, we went to the Institute of Tropical Medicine Pedro Kouri, which conducts research on HIV/AIDS in pregnant women and newborns. We learned that Cubans have had no HIV/AIDS transmission between mothers and infants in the last four years!! Something that no other country in the Western Hemisphere can say.
We were also allowed to visit a center where children with disabilities are educated and develop into independent individuals who are vibrant, healthy, happy, talented and most importantly, LOVED.
We learned that childcare is provided for working moms at the cost of $1.50/month. Vaccinations are given, but not as many as in Western cultures. The Cubans have developed a vaccination for vitiligo, a vaccination for non-small cell lung carcinoma, which does not cure the cancer, but allows the person to live a longer life with fewer symptoms and a higher quality of life. They are also working on a vaccine to cure breast cancer. They do not circumcise boys, and after a baby is born a doctor or nurse visits the mom in her home EVERY DAY for the first seven days. After the first week, the mom is visited/seen by either the doctor, nurse or community worker either at her home or in the clinic for 42 DAYS!!! They make sure that all things in the home are going well, that she is healing well, that lactation is going well, and that the baby is thriving. If there is a problem or issue, it is dealt with immediately. This is likely one of the main reasons that Cuba has better maternal health outcomes then the U.S.
What we ultimately learned from this phenomenal trip is that the mother (woman) is important in Cuba. She is the producer of life. Education about raising a child and caring for a child is very much a part of the Cuban medical system and as a result their infant mortality rate is 4 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to 23.8 deaths per 100,000 live births in the U.S.
Cuba may be resource poor, but it is so very rich in human capital, and focuses on its people—all of its people. Everywhere we looked we saw photos and inspirational quotes from Fidel Castro, Che Gueverra, and Marti ( the leaders of the Revolution) , reminding the people, and us, what the purpose of the Revolution was and why it is so very important to continue the tenets of the Revolution, now and in the future.
Because health is of utmost importance to the Cuban government, Cuba trains hundreds of doctors and nurses every year, many of whom are from other countries. Cuba also sends doctors and nurses to other countries if they need them, such as after a natural disaster or during war… and in return receives material and economic aid to help the CUBAN people survive.
Cuba has made huge strides in maternal and child health, and in their health care system as a whole, with the little resources they have. The embargo on Cuba negatively impacts the country’s ability to bring the best care possible to its citizens and to the world. I urge Congress to stop the blockade now—the U.S. embargo on Cuba is a human rights violation.
Please write your Congressmembers and tell them to lift the embargo on Cuba NOW.