It makes a world of difference that we visited Cuba as medical students. I think I noticed an inherent respect afforded to students of the "healing professions" here, in a country which takes it so seriously.
Cuba’s primary causes of death are similar to those of developed countries – heart disease, cancer, and stroke. This is amazing given that for the rest of Latin America and the developing world it is still infectious diseases! There are 23 medical schools in Cuba! Medicine is a popular profession and there is a doc in every neighborhood, not even one is unemployed! The doctor that I was able to visit on occasion lived in a modest house provided to her by the government, from which she took care of the 1000 patients who lived in her area. She told us that none of them had AIDS and it happened to be that there was no doctor in the neighboring town because they had gone on mission. Mission means that the doctor will spend about 2 years traveling to another country to offer medical services, but you can ask to opt out if you had small children at home. The doctor would also make house calls for any patients who could not come to her house for an appointment. This doctor is on call 24 hours a day! Doctors only make about $25 a month, which is the highest salary except for some people who work in the tourist industry. Some doctors even get other jobs to help with finances, like waitressing! Although it is difficult for anyone Cuban to leave the country, there are some ways, if you are invited by someone you can be on a waiting list for a few years and go, or you can enter a lottery to go. But doctors and some other health professionals are not allowed to go because in the '60s (right after the revolution) almost half the doctors in Cuba left.
"Natural and Traditional Medicine" as they call it has really flourished in this country, due to necessity, after the crisis time of the 90s. Since medications and resources (even things as simple as latex gloves must be washed and reused!) were becoming scarce, they sent doctors to China and other parts of the East to learn acupuncture, acupressure, floral and herbal treatments, among others. Now these modalities are also taught to Cuban medical students in their 5th and 6th year (theirs is a 6 year program) and is used extensively around the country, and it seems to be working well. We visited two centers which used Natural Medicine in their practice and it seemed to be quite successful. One was a pain clinic and we observed a woman with a back problem that caused her to walk hunched over go in for treatment with acupuncture and come out ten minutes later without pain and walking normally! We also observed acupressure treatment for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
They have places called "Cases de Abuelos" (Grandparents houses) in every neighborhood. This is a place for older folks to go when their families are at work or school and they get free meals, medical care, exercise, games and they seem so happy. They get to meet other folks their age to hang out with, dance, talk, go on trips, they told us some even meet and get married! We heard from one 82 year old women about how much better things are for them after 1959 because of Fidel, they now have somewhere to go instead of deteriorating alone at home, they get food, and in general the society has more racial and gender equality.