La sanidad en Cuba

Cable de EE UU que denuncia el mal funcionamiento de la sanidad cubana

La embajada señala que "incluso la élite cubana a veces se va fuera de Cuba para procurarse mejor asistencia"

Date:2008-01-31 19:52:00
Source:US Interests Section Havana
DE RUEHUB #0103/01 0311952
R 311952Z JAN 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 06 HAVANA 000103




E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/25/2018


Classified By: COM: Michael E. Parmly: For reasons 1.4 b/d

1. (C) SUMMARY: This cable is a follow up to Reftel and
provides anecdotal accounts from Cubans about their
healthcare, based on USINT FSHP's (Foreign Service Health
Practitioner) interactions with them, her unauthorized visits
to Cuban hospitals, and her care of USINT American and Cuban
personnel. End Summary.

2. (C) The following anecdotes were obtained from Cubans of
various walks of life: domestic employees, neighbors in the
Havana suburbs, USINT Local Contract National (LCN)
employees, service providers such as manicurists, masseuses,
hair stylists, chauffeurs, musicians, artists, yoga teachers,
tailors, as well as HIV/AIDS and cancer patients, physicians,
and foreign medical students.

-- A Cuban woman in her thirties confides, "It's all about
who you know. I'm okay because I am healthy and I have
'friends' in the medical field. If I didn't have my
connections, and most Cubans do not, it would be horrible."
She relates that Cubans are increasingly dissatisfied with
their medical care. In addition to the general lack of
supplies and medicines, and because so many doctors have been
sent abroad, the neighborhood family physicians now care for
300-400 families and are overwhelmed by the workload. (Note:
Neighborhood doctors are supposed to provide care for only
120 families. End Note.) In the absence of the physicians,
patients go to their municipality's "polyclinic," but long
lines before dawn are common, with an all too common
30-second diagnosis of "it's a virus."

-- A 40-year old pregnant Cuban woman had a miscarriage. At
the OB-Gyn hospital they used a primitive manual vacuum to
aspirate the contents of her womb, without any anesthesia or
pain medicine. She was offered no emotional support for her
'loss' and no pain medication or follow up appointments.

-- A 6-year old Cuban boy with osterosarcoma (bone cancer) is
admitted to the oncology hospital. Only his parents are
permitted to visit, and then only for limited hours. He does
not have a television nor any games or toys. The hospital
offers no social support services. The parents do not seem
informed as to their son's case. When asked by the FSHP what
they know about the management of the disease, they shrug
their shoulders. According to the FSHP, cancer patients do
not receive on-going basic care utilizing testing procedures
common in much of the world to monitor cancer care -- such as
blood chemistries and tumor markers, sonograms, x-rays, CT
and bone scans, MRIs, PET scans, etc. Patients are generally
informed of the type of cancer they have, but know little of
its staging, tumor size, metastasis, or prognosis. They may
be offered surgery followed by chemotherapy and/or radiation
but are not given choices to decide an aggressive versus less
aggressive approach, nor are they allowed internet access to
learn more of their disease.

-- Many young cancer patients reportedly have become infected
with Hepatitis C after their surgeries. Contracting
Hepatitis C after surgery indicates a lack of proper blood
screening prior to administering transfusions. All blood
should be screened for Hepatitis B, C, HIV and Syphilis prior
to use. Patients have no recourse and are not fully informed
of the seriousness of such an inadvertent infection.

-- During chemotherapy and radiation treatments, patients
receive little in the way of symptom or side-effects care
(i.e., severe nausea, vomiting, low blood counts, fever,
diarrhea, radiation burns, mouth sores, peripheral
neuropathies,etc.) that is critically important in being able
to continue treatments, let alone provide comfort to an
already emotionally distraught victim. Cancer patients are
not provided with, nor can they find locally, simple
medications such as Aspirin, Tylenol, skin lotions, vitamins,
etc. Most Cuban patients are not offered Hospice Care or any
social support programs for children, adults, or their care providers.

-- HIV positive patients have had the letters 'SIDA' (AIDS)

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stamped on their national ID cards. Needless to say, in a
country where the national ID card must be shown for
everything from getting monthly rations to buying a train
ticket, the person is stigmatized for life. There is no
patient/doctor confidentiality and discrimination is very
strong. (Note: According to Pan-American Health
Organization (PAHO) officials in Havana, stamping ID cards
used to be the case but is no longer the practice in Cuba,
something we could not independently corroborate. End Note.)

-- Some newly diagnosed HIV/AIDS patients are held in what
has come to be known as "Prision de Pacientes con SIDA de San
Jose" (Prison for AIDS patients). There they are started on
antiretrovirals AZT, D4T, 3TC. It is unclear to them why
they were put in this prison-like facility but believe it is
plain discrimination due to their homosexuality. The average
period spent at this facility seems to be 18-24 months.

-- AIDS patients are not given prophylaxis medication for the
prevention of PCP (Pneumocysti carinii pneumonia), and for
lack of newer medicines some patients are re-started on
antiretroviral regimens that were stopped due to significant
side effects. The Cuban family physicians who care for these
patients' primary care needs do not have the authority to
treat their HIV/AIDS disease. There is only one facility in
Cuba, Instituto Pedro Kouri, located in Havana, where HIV
positive patients can receive their specialty care,
antiretroviral medications and treatments. According to HIV
positive Cubans known to FSHP, one usually waits for months
for an appointment, but can often move ahead in line by
offering a gift or hard currency. We are told five Cuban
convertible pesos (approximately USD 5.40) can get one an
x-ray and more can get one a CD4 count. Patients on the
island must travel to the capital city for their specialist
visits and medication. Due to the lack of island-wide
transportation and the cost of travel, many HIV-positive
patients may be seen only once per year.

-- While the GOC claims there is a network of organizations
that provide social support for HIV/AIDS patients, many of
our sources say they have never been to one. Because they
are "marked" as HIV positive, many are prevented from
pursuing university studies and few can find gainful
employment -- many must resort to menial jobs to survive.

-- A XXXXXXXXXXXXX who provides medical care at the Communist
Party's Central Committee headquarters told the FSHP that he
works 14 hours every other day, then has to hitchhike home
because he cannot afford to own a car.

-- XXXXXXXXXXXXX, stated that
Cuban authorities have banned Michael Moore's documentary,
"Sicko," as being subversive. Although the film's intent is
to discredit the U.S. healthcare system by highlighting the
excellence of the Cuban system, he said the regime knows the
film is a myth and does not want to risk a popular backlash
by showing to Cubans facilities that are clearly not
available to the vast majority of them. When the FSHP showed
Sicko to a group XXXXXXXXXXXX, some became so
disturbed at the blatant misrepresentation of healthcare in
Cuba that they left the room.

-- Even the Cuban ruling elite sometimes goes outside of Cuba
for the best medical care. Fidel Castro, in July, 2006
brought in a Spanish doctor during his health crisis. Vice
Minister of Health Abelardo Ramirez went to France for
gastric cancer surgery. The neurosurgeon who is Chief of
CIMEQ Hospital (reportedly one of the best in Cuba) went to
England for eye surgery and returns periodically for checkups.

-- According to a local pediatrician, the approximate
breakdown of Cuban physicians' salaries are: 1st & 2nd year
residences earn 325 pesos monthly (USD 15.00); 3rd year
residences earn 355 (USD 16.00); 4th year residences
(specialists) earn 400 pesos monthly (USD 18.00). For every
four years of medical practice thereafter, a physician
receives an additional 20 pesos (USD 0.89 cents) per month.

-- There is reportedly such a shortage of nurses that within
the last few years, a high-school graduate is now offered an

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accelerated training course of just ten-months duration
entitled, "Enfermeras Emergentes" (Emergency Nurses). These
"quasi" nurses are not trained to start Intravenous lines,
interpret lab results or draw blood.

-- Few medical professionals are allowed access to the
internet and are rarely allowed to travel to participate in
international conferences or continuing education courses.
Access to up-to-date medical literature is not available.
Some physicians have confided to the FSHP, "All of us want to
leave." They are dissatisfied with their salaries and their
own medical care. They receive no special privileges - most
of them do not even have access to care at the better
foreigner hospitals, even if they work there.

-- As described in reftel, the best medical institutions in
Cuba are reserved for foreigners with hard currency, members
of the ruling elite and high-ranking military personnel.
These institutions, with their intended patient clientele in
parentheses, include: Clinica Central Cira Garcia (diplomats
& tourists), Centro Internacional de Investigaciones
Restauracion Neurologica (foreigners & military elite),
Centro de Investigaciones Medico Quirurgicas (military &
regime elite), Clinica de Kohly (Primer Buro Politico &
Generals of the Ministry of Interior), and the top floors of
the Hermanos Ameijeiras Hospital (foreigners) and Frank Pais
Hospital (foreigners). These institutions are hygienically
qualified, and have a wide array of diagnostic equipment with
a full complement of laboratories, well-stocked pharmacies,
and private patient suites with cable television and bathrooms.

4. (C) Below are first-hand observations from USINT's Foreign
Service Health Practitioner's (FSHP) impromptu and
unauthorized (by the GOC) visits to major Havana hospitals
where average Cubans receive their healthcare, and from
conversations with Cubans in many walks of life.

A. Hermanos Ameijeiras Hospital

-- Address: San Lazaro #701 Esquina A Belascoain, Centro
Habana, Havana

-- Date of visit: October, 2007

-- Built in 1982, this newly renovated 600 bed, 24 story
hospital is depicted in Michael Moore's film "Sicko," where
some 60 surgeries are performed daily including heart,
kidney, and cornea transplants, mostly to patients who
receive free treatment as part of Operation Milagro (mostly
from Venezuela, but also from the rest of Latin America).
The two top floors (shown in the movie) are the most modern
and are reserved for medical tourists and foreign diplomats
who pay in hard currency. The hospital has three intensive
care units and all medical specialties except Pediatrics and
Obstetrics/Gynecology and has no emergency room. The
facility has a CT scanner (often said to be out-of-service),
MRI and hyperbaric chamber capabilities.

-- Upon entering the building the FSHP was struck by the
grand and impressive lobby with a four-story ceiling,
polished terrazzo floors and an elegant center reception
booth. No one was in the reception booth, which displayed a
digital streaming ticker-tape announcing an outdated hospital
event; 30 or 40 people were sparsely scattered in the
leather-like chairs throughout the lobby. There were no
wheel chairs or other obvious signs this was a hospital.

-- She was told the majority of patients came from Venezuela
and each received weekly one bar of Palmolive bath soap,
Palmolive shampoo, and a tube of Colgate toothpaste. She was
also told the Venezuelan patients frequently take these items
outside to the front parking lot and sell them to local
Cubans. Cuban in-patients receive one tube of Colgate
toothpaste and no other toiletries.

-- Due to the high volume of foreigners receiving treatments
and surgeries, most Cubans do not have access - the only
chance might be a through a family member or connection
working there and a gift or 20 CUCS (USD 21.60) to the
Hospital Administrator. Cubans are reportedly very resentful

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that the best hospital in Havana is "off-limits" to them.

B. Ramon Gonzalez Coro Hospital

-- Address: Calle 21 #856 between 4th & 6th Avenues, Vedado
Plaza, Havana

-- Date of visit: July, 2006

-- What is today the Obstetrics & Gynecology (OB-Gyn)
hospital for Havana, used to be a private clinic prior to the
revolution. The hospital has: 300 beds and reserves 12 beds
for foreigners; an Intensive Care Unit for women as well as a
Newborn Intensive Care Unit (using a very old infant 'Bird'
respirator/ventilator - the model used in the U.S. in the
1970s); an Intermediate Newborn Care Unit; one room for
babies less than five pounds needing weight gain; a Genetics
Department with a specialized laboratory; and five surgical suites.

-- The FSHP visited this hospital with a pregnant USINT
American patient. Normally USINT staff is required to go to
Cira Garcia Clinic, but because there were possible OB
complications the FSHP was able to arrange, through a Cuban
medical contact, for the patient to be seen by a
highly-recommended obstetrician.

-- This hospital, located in the densely populated
residential area of Vedado, had a dilapidated and crumbling
exterior. The FSHP was stopped at the entrance by a guard,
but upon mentioning the name of the doctor they were to see,
were allowed to proceed to the second floor - supposedly the
nicest part of the hospital, which is reserved for
foreigners; it reminded the FSHP of some of the poorest
hospitals she had seen in Africa - unkempt rooms, old
wrought-iron beds, flat mattresses with only one sheet, no
A/C, no TV, no amenities. At the nursing station there was
no nurse, but a metal cabinet with glass doors that had one
jar filled with cotton and one half-full 16 ounce bottle of
isopropyl alcohol. There were no other supplies nor any
indication this was a nurse's station - no stethoscopes, no
computers, no medical charts, no papers or pens on the desk -
there was a lone dial-type black telephone.

-- After waiting 15 minutes a nurse in a white uniform
appeared and told the FSHP and her patient to wait. She
wasn't friendly. There was no waiting room, so they found
some chairs in the hall. It was very hot and the patient was
very anxious and in pain. After 45 minutes and several
attempts in a polite manner to move things along, a young
female doctor came out smiling and asked for the patient -
she asked that her husband remain in the chair, but did allow
the FSHP to go with her upon insisting. At the end of a long
hallway, the FSHP and the patient were guided into an "exam
room." There were no chairs, screens, posters, any medical
supplies or equipment; only one old rusting sheet-metal table
without any covering, extensions or stirrups. She asked the
patient to undress and climb on the table with no intention
to drape her. Having worked in third-world countries, the
FSHP brought with her a bag of supplies that included paper
drapes, which she placed on the table and over the patient.
The doctor pulled out of a nearby drawer an old Pinard fetal
heart stethoscope made of aluminum (funnel-shaped, like those
used at the turn of the Century ) to listen for the baby's
heart beat. The FSHP could not believe her eyes -- this was
one of the best OB/GYN hospitals in Cuba. When the FSHP
offered the doctor a portable fetal Doppler she had brought
from the USINT Health Unit (HU), she gladly accepted.

-- Although the doctor appeared to be clinically competent,
she was abrupt and rough with the patient. FSHP believes
this to be typical of the hierarchical doctor-patient
relationship in Cuba. She stated, "She has an infection and
needs an antibiotic," and gave the FSHP a written
prescription for an antibiotic generally not recommended
during pregnancy. Upon returning to the HU the FSHP did a
culture that returned negative for a bacterial infection.
Needless to say, the FSHP did not give the prescription to
the patient. As a result of this experience, the FSHP
concluded that the best care for her unstable female pregnant
patients in Havana -- barring a MEDEVAC to the U.S. -- would

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be by the FSHP in their own home with telephone consults to
an obstetrician in the U.S.

that XXXXXXXXXXXXX foreign medical
students are increasingly covering for the gross shortages of
physicians in Cuban hospitals.

C. Calixto Garcia Hospital

-- Address: Avenida De Universidad Y 27 De Noviembre,
Vedado, Havana

-- Date of visit: November, 2007

-- Built in the late 1800's, this dilapidated 400-bed
hospital was the first teaching hospital in Cuba and is only
for Cubans. FSHP believes that if Michael Moore really
wanted the "same care as local Cubans," this is where he
should have gone. The 22-bed emergency room receives all the
major trauma and accident victims from Havana City, plus
there are large Intensive and Intermediate Care Units. It
also has a CT scanner and an MRI, which are reportedly often
out of order. The hospital provides specialist care in all
medical fields except OB-Gyn and Pediatrics.

-- During the hospital visit, FSHP was struck by the
shabbiness of the facility -- no renovations were apparent --
and the lack of everything (medical supplies, privacy,
professional care staff). To the FSHP it was reminiscent of
a scene from some of the poorest countries in the world.

-- In an open-curtained exam room inside the emergency room,
FSHP saw a middle-aged man lying on a gurney in his own
soiled clothes with a large bloody bandage wrapped around his
head - he was breathing, but was neither moving nor talking -
there was no IV, oxygen (in fact no piped-in oxygen at all at
this facility) or monitoring equipment. Neither did there
seem to be any sense of urgency to his care.

-- The hospital is spread out over several city blocks
consisting of many two-story buildings with various
specialties: Internal Medicine, Cardiology, General Surgery,
Orthopedics, Ophthalmology, and Neurology, etc. Each
building is set up in dormitory style, with 44 metal beds in
two large open rooms.

-- The laboratory equipment is very rudimentary - a simple
CBC (complete blood count) blood test is calculated manually
by a laboratory technician looking through a microscope and
counting the individual leucocytes, lymphocytes, monocytes, etc.

-- As the FSHP exited a building, the hospital's Chief of
Surgery drove up in a badly dented 1981 Moskovich that
belched exhaust fumes. The private car, which is a luxury in
Cuba, was a gift from his deceased father. He was a thin
man, appearing disheveled, unshaved, with a cigarette between
his lips, wearing a tattered white lab coat without a shirt
underneath. He said his salary was 565 pesos (approximately
$22) per month.

D. Salvador Allende Hospital

-- Address: Calzada Del Cerro # 1551, Cerro, Havana

-- Date of visit: November, 2007

-- This 400-bed hospital is located in Cerro - a poorer and
more densely populated section than the others visited in
Havana. It is an old, run-down facility similar in
appearance to Calixto Garcia Hospital in that there are
several two-story buildings each with a medical specialty.

-- The FSHP was dropped off a few blocks away so the guards
wouldn't see the diplomatic plates. When she walked in, the
guards smelled of alcohol. In the emergency room there were
about 40 mostly poor-looking Afro-Cuban patients waiting to

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be seen. It appeared to be very orderly, clean, and organized.

-- The rest of the buildings were in shambles . The FSHP did
not see any "real" medicine or nursing practiced during her
almost one-hour walk through most of the buildings. As she
saw patients, she could not help but think that their own
home might provide more value-added than remaining in that
hospital. Patients had to bring their own light bulbs if
they wanted light in their rooms. The switch plates and
knobs had been stolen from most of the rooms so one had to
connect bare wires to get electricity. There was no A/C and
few patients had floor fans. Patients had to bring their own
sheets, towels, soap and supplemental foods. Hospital food
service consisted of rice, fish, rice, eggs, and potatoes day
after day. No fresh fruits, vegetables, or meat were available.

5. (C) Comment: After living in Cuba for two and a half
years, treating numerous Cuban employees at USINT, and
interacting with many other Cubans, the FSHP believes many
are malnourished and psychologically stressed. Hypertension,
diabetes and asthma are widespread, but poorly treated.
Common prescription and basic over-the-counter medications
are unavailable. Given the large number of chronic diseases
treated by the FSHP, preventive medicine in Cuba is a by-gone
ideal, rather than the standard practice of care.
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