By Judy Adamson
May 24, 2006
If you were asked which neighbour of the US had a lower infant mortality rate - and exported vaccines (for reasonable prices) to poor countries - you'd probably be hard pressed to come up with the answer.
Still in the grip of American sanctions, Cuba has had to make its own opportunities. Pharmaceutical companies won't sell vaccines there so the country manufactures its own and, with little high-tech medical equipment, the Cubans do a pretty impressive job.
It's confronting to watch a woman undergo plastic surgery with a local anaesthetic, but she's perfectly happy - as is the man whose doctor is paying a house call to his diabetic wife. He has seen medical care in the US, he says, and "if you go to a hospital there and you have no money, you just die".
The downside is that Cuban doctors earn just $10 a week and the US has accused the country of buying UN votes with the doctors it trains. Otherwise, it seems Cuba is using its resources wisely and well - and it's a wonderful irony to hear a US diplomat complain that the Cuban health system is only about "cold, hard business".