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MichUHCAN Newsletter for June, 2001

"Everybody In! Nobody Out!": MichUHCAN Member visits Cuban Health Facilities

by Isabel Doyle

In Cuba, medical assistance has been available to everyone since 1959, despite the decades-long United States embargo. In March, I saw the Cuban health system in action when I visited a clinic in Varadero, a small town on the Carribean.

When I walked in off the street, as a visitor with limited conversational Spanish, I saw no front office where you show your insurance cards and/or proof that you can pay for care. You just walk in and a nurse greets you.

The nurse who met me near the door of the clinic, Juan, was a tall, typically dark-skinned Cuban , with the tenderness of a Papa Bear. The small clinic, one of two in the town, is within walking distance of every home.

When I accidentally scraped my hand and it started to bleed a lot because of my daily blood thinner aspirin, he walked me right into the "sterile room" and cleansed the scrape with excellent sterile technique. Then, much to my chagrin, he used up three precious sterile throat swabs and a band-aid on me. I had brought along dozens of band-aids to leave with them because of the shortage.

Juan volunteered to take me to visit the hospital in the province. He had a friend with a "taxi" who gave me a very good rate for the trip. They took me by the nursing college, a nice looking four story building.

At the hospital Juan introduced me to the medical director and the head nurse, who accompanied us on our tour. Dr Rodriguez brought out two brothers, both doctors on the staff. One of them spoke excellent English.

I asked to see the babies and their mothers. After we climbed the narrow winding steps to the third floor, we stepped into the normal delivery facilities. It was just what, in my view, good obstetrical care should offer. First, we looked through the glass to see three tiny infants in incubators with several nurses hovering over them. It was a bright room with Cuban sunshine flooding it.

Next we visited several rooms, each with four mothers with their babies' modern little cribs right beside them. One was nursing her baby and seemed like a little Madonna. The doctor assured me that all the mothers breast-feed, "Of course!"

On the walls there were beautiful murals, in full Latin color and almost life size, of mothers with their infants in various recommended positions, both sitting and lying down, for good nursing technique. It seemed as if breast-feeding is a patriotic duty. It is certainly given every opportunity to be a success.

A cancer research doctor in Detroit had told me that, "Yes, of course, lack of breast feeding is a factor among the causes of breast cancer. This is well known in the research community." Why is this never mentioned in all the talk about finding a cure? I guess the real answer is there's no way to exploit it for profit. Cuban philosophy does not view everything from the capitalistic perspective.

Next I visited a residence for women who are pregnant and need good care, nutrition, education, and close supervision during the long months before delivery. It was like a resident YWCA, quite modern and attractive. The neighborhood doctors write a prescription for the girl or woman to be received there. This is free as part of the state's desire to give every infant the best chance. Is it any wonder that Cuba's maternal and infant mortality rates are better than ours?

I regret that even the relatively small matter of "patient's rights" is only a political football in our "Great land of the Free".

Note: Corrections, rebuttals or comments welcome. E-mail the author, or send a letter to this newsletter's editor.

Detroit Chapter meeting:

Thursday, June 21, 7:30 PM
with Michael Connors
Michigan Campaign for Quality Care

on the struggle for decent care in nursing homes

Place: First United Methodist Church of Berkley
12 Mile Road, three blocks west of Coolidge;
park in the lot on the west side;
enter from Kipling, on the east side.

Volunteers Needed for Celebration of Health Care Around the Globe

MichUHCAN will host an International Buffet" on October 13. The buffet, at UAW Local 417 in Troy, will feature foods from countries that have universal health care. Claudia Fegan, past president of PNHP, will be the keynote speaker.

A lot of help is needed for this event. Marylyn Schmidt will be chairing and can be contacted at 248-634-3520 if you can help. We will meet at 6:00 PM on June 21st at Berkley First United Methodist Church just before the regular Detroit chapter meeting.

Following are the committees that need volunteers:

Food: Prepare food at home and bring it to the hall. Countries remaining to be chosen are: Switzerland, New Zealand, Belgium, United Kingdom, Sweden, Japan, Portugal, Italy, Canada, Denmark, Australia, Norway, and Cuba. (Countries already chosen are: France, Spain, Germany, and Greece.) Expenses will be reimbursed.

Organizational outreach: Contact each Michigan U2K organization and ask them to publicize the event to their members.

Publicity: Contact newspapers for free advertisement.

Decorations: Do table centerpieces. All expenses will be reimbursed.

We will also need volunteers to staff the ticket, literature, and sales tables, as well as to do the paper work for a one-day license to sell alcohol.

Any questions or suggestions, please call Marylyn Schmidt (248-674-3520).