Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

Professor Studies Health Care of Cuba

February 1st, 2010

By: Fran Simon

Photo: In a Cuban clinic, Tia Tucker, right, examines a patient. Tucker is a Tulane public health alumna attending medical school in Havana. (Photo from Tia Tucker)

As the debate over U.S. health care continues, a Tulane School of Medicine professor is contemplating lessons from a research trip to Cuba. Dr. Rick Streiffer joined 14 medical educators who observed Cuba‘€™s healthcare system, including medical students working in clinics and a hospital.

Streiffer, professor and chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine, calls his experience in Cuba ‘€œeye-opening.‘€

‘€œCuba has made tremendous progress in the delivery of health care and hence the health status of its people in the last 50 years,‘€ Streiffer says.

For the first half of the 20th century, the Cuban citizens suffered and died from ‘€œThird World illnesses‘€ such as malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and other infectious diseases, says Streiffer.

Dr. Rick Streiffer toured Cuba with medical educators to observe its healthcare system. (Photo from Dr. Rick Streiffer)

‘€œToday,‘€ he says, ‘€œwith 100 percent universal access to care, the highest physician-to-population ratio in the world, and a system that has 70 percent primary care doctors, those diseases no longer dominate, and people live longer than we do in the U.S.‘€

Cuba also trains thousands of physicians from other countries at no cost to the trainees or their countries.

‘€œThe only obligation of those trainees being to return to their own country to practice in an underserved community,‘€ says Streiffer.

Cuba‘€™s model of both medical training and primary practice is a melding of public health, social and behavioral sciences and medicine, he says. He relates an encounter with a maternal/fetal medicine specialist who practiced 20 years in a hospital setting. For the last five years, however, the obstetrician has seen patients in a neighborhood clinic.

‘€œHe told me that it was so much smarter to prevent these problems in partnership with the family doctor than wait until the patients come to the hospital in crisis.‘€

Streiffer‘€™s tour of Cuba was part of an effort led by Medical Education Cooperation With Cuba, a nonprofit advocacy organization that works to improve health outcomes in the U.S. and developing countries.

See the original story in Tulane’s New Wave