Cuba – A Major Destination for Medical Tourism

Most people don’t know that Cuba is a major destination for medical tourism; they usually think of India or other countries when they are looking for top quality medical care at competitive prices far below those of the U.S. However, Cuba has top-notch doctors and medical personnel as well as state of the art medical and rehabilitation facilities in a beautiful tropical climate at extremely affordable prices.

Medical tourism has been a $40 million a year business for Cuba since the 1980s. Nearly 20,000 patients made Cuba their destination in 2005 in order to get high quality, affordable medical care for conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, orthopedic surgery and eye surgery. Many of them were from Latin America and Europe, choosing Cuba for treatment of retinitis pigmentosa, or night blindness. Foreign patients and diplomats are treated in special hospitals which cater to medical tourism, often with luxurious accommodations as well as caregivers with impeccable credentials and decades of experience.

One of the reasons that Cuba has such superior medical care and undercuts other nations’ prices lies in their national healthcare system. In the 1950s it had more doctors per thousand citizens than most prominent European countries but only 8% of rural citizens had access to them. In solving this problem the government decided to institute health care services in rural areas and offered enticements to providers to practice there. Eventually this evolved into a national health care system for every citizen, overseen by the minister of health.

This health care system has resulted in an average life expectancy of 77.7 years, one of the highest in the region. This has been achieved through proactive programs to promote preventative health such as nutritional education, access to healthy foods at affordable prices and preventative care. Cuba accepts and practices alternative medicines like acupuncture, homeopathy, natural dietary supplements, and yoga. Children in primary school study medicinal plants and how to grow them in a class garden, conducting scientific tests and learning their uses. Cuban biochemists study alternative medicine and actively work to develop new natural treatments. For instance, they’ve found a way to reduce total cholesterol by using derivatives from sugarcane wax and mango tree bark.

This innovative health care system and underlying proactive programs is what often sways medical tourists to choose Cuba. Rather than costly drugs to support their conditions, patients can take advantage of the results of Cuban research facilities that might have developed a natural therapy for their malady. If conventional drug therapy is called for it is eminently more affordable than in other countries.

The Health Ministry is also instituting a computerized national network of blood banks and their inventory that is updated in real time. Cuba is only the second country in the world to have computerized organization of all of the medical imaging and nephrology facilities. They are currently working on a computerized health register, medical genetic projects, neurosciences, etc. in order to make information between physicians and hospitals more accessible. This means better medical care for both Cubans and medical tourists.