Cuba's health system reaches out to help citizens in...


May 23, 1999

Cuba's health system reaches out to help citizens in need

In his May 15 article on the visit by Baltimore health professionals to Cuba ("Health system in Cuba praised"), Scott Shane wrote: "[We] heard about coercive health policies of President Fidel Castro's government, such as a requirement that pregnant women not caring properly for themselves be moved to group homes until their babies are born."

This is a misrepresentation of what we really heard.

Pregnant women at high-risk because of inadequate nutrition, or other medical conditions, are encouraged by their family doctor (but never coerced) to spend the last stage of their pregnancy in a special home where expectant mothers are monitored and properly nourished until they deliver, free of charge.

FOR THE RECORD - Michael M. Gimbel, director of the Baltimore County Department of Health's Bureau of Substance Abuse, was incorrectly identified in a letter to the editor as the director of the county health department. The Sun regrets the error.

This system may be hard to imagine for Americans accustomed to a health-care system where everyone is left to find what care they can afford.

But the Cuban health system is based on entirely different principles: Health is a human right, and it is the responsibility of the health system to seek out high-risk persons and provide proper care when it is needed.

It is no coincidence that Cuba's infant mortality and immunization rates are significantly better than ours.

The Sun's article also said that we were subjected to "political diatribes" in Cuba.

However, political diatribes can adopt different forms. It can be a Cuban official complaining about the economic embargo. It can also be an American unfairly distorting the reality of a poor and humble country trying to provide the best health care to its people.

Perpetuating prejudices will not help the people of both countries -- so close georgraphically -- to become closer again.

Dr. Peter Beilenson, Baltimore

Dr. Beilenson is commissioner of the Baltimore City Health Department. He signed this letter along with three other health-care professionals.

Cuban shortages make care scarce

My impression of the Cuban health care system after a visit to that country a few months ago was significantly different from that of Dr. Peter Beilenson's group.

I was one of four physicians who, with Thomas Garofalo, the director of Catholic Relief Services' Cuba Program, went to Cuba to improve education for Cuban physicians, who have no current medical textbooks, journals or equipment.

Although Cuba has a good record in immunizations and other elements of preventive medicine, care for ill or unhealthy people is lamentably poor.

The Cardiovascular Institute in Havana does about 150 heart operations a year. The need for cardiac surgery is five or six times that number. The limitation is a lack of check tubes, catheters and other simple supplies.

At the time of our visit, the institute was doing no cardiac surgery that week because the electricity was off.

What little basic medical equipment is available has been donated by foreign relief organizations and is antiquated.

At the largest general hospital in the city, we were told that a heart attack victim would, if his condition worsened, be transferred to the Cardiovascular Institute across town -- if an operational ambulance could be found with sufficient fuel to make the three-mile trip.

Simple X-rays studies were rarely performed because of a lack of film. What little there is comes from China and is of poor quality.

Medicines are in very short supply, and relatives of hospitalized patients are regularly given prescriptions and told to go to one of the relief organizations for necessary medicine.

In Cuba little money is available for health-care or other basic necessities.

Universal access to health care means little if there is little health care available.

Dr. D. William Schlott, Baltimore

Bill before Congress would ease the embargo

Our food and medicine embargo has had a devastating effect on the health and nutrition of ordinary Cuban people.

Now the Cuban Food and Medicine Security Act of 1999 would lift the boycott of medicine and food sales. The bill was introduced in the Senate by Christopher Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, and John Warner, a Virginia Republican, and in the House by Jose Serrano, a New York Democrat and Jim Leach, an Iowa Republican.

It is a win-win piece of legislation that will help us and our allies economically and benefit Cubans' health.

Marilyn Carlisle, Baltimore

Preakness-day intruder should be handled harshly

I was at Pimlico on May 15 when Lee Ferrell ran onto the track during the seventh race. As an insurance agent for racetracks all over the country, I know all too well what a tremendous tragedy was avoided by the jockeys' skilled riding.

I hope that Mr. Ferrell is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law; I suggest that the charge be attempted murder.

His actions were no less reckless than if he had taken a loaded gun and shot it into a crowd of people. It was just fortunate that no one tumbled, which could have caused fatal injuries.

My hat is off to the jockeys' skill. I hope the endangerment to their lives is seriously weighed when charges are filed.

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