The full article is available here:The Truths and Tales of Cuban Healthcare and here; http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/06/201265115527622647.html. The Introduction and an excerpt are reproduced below.
The state-run system has been praised, but many specialists now fear they are falling behind international standards.
Lucia Newman Last Modified: 18 Jun 2012 08:30
If there is one thing for which Cuba has received praise over the years, it is the Communist government’s state-run healthcare system. Much of this praise is well-deserved. Despite its scarce resources, Cuba has one of the world’s lowest infant mortality rates – just slightly lower than that of the US. Life expectancy is 77.5 years, one of the world’s highest. And until not so long ago, there was one doctor for every 170 citizens – the highest patient-per-doctor ratio in the world.
Of course, the government can afford so many doctors because they are paid extremely low salaries by international standards. The average is between $30 and $50 per month.
And the benefits of this healthcare have not only been felt by Cubans.
Under Fidel Castro, the former Cuban president, hundreds of child victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, left without proper medical attention after the collapse of the Soviet Union, were invited to Cuba. A hospital was constructed to treat them while they and their families set up temporary residence in Tarara, a beautiful seaside neighborhood near Havana. Many remain there today.
By the time I moved to Cuba in 1997, there were serious shortages of medicine – from simple aspirin to more badly needed drugs.
Ironically, many medicines that cannot be found at a pharmacy are easily bought on the black market. Some doctors, nurses and cleaning staff smuggle the medicine out of the hospitals in a bid to make extra cash.
Although medical attention remains free, many patients did and still do bring their doctors food, money or other gifts to get to the front of the queue or to guarantee an appointment for an X-ray, blood test or operation. If you do not have a contact or money to pay under the table, the waiting time for all but emergency procedures can be ridiculously long.
Many Cubans complain that top-level government and Communist Party officials have access to VIP health treatment, while ordinary people must queue from dawn for a routine test, with no guarantee that the allotted numbers will not run out before it is their turn. And while the preventative healthcare system works well for children, women over the age of 40 are being shortchanged because yearly mammograms are not offered to the population at large.
I saw many hospitals where there was often no running water, the toilets did not flush, and the risk of infections – by the hospital’s own admission – was extremely high.