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Cuba Blog Post #2: Resourcefulness or How Good Things Can Come From Lack

IMG_1306When the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuba lost its primary trading partner and supplier of energy. Cubans call the 1990’s the “special period,” during which time they had no electricity for 12 hours or more a day and a dangerous lack of food, with crisis in nearly all aspects of life. They developed some important trade relationships with China and eventually Venezuela, but those took years to develop. In the meantime, out of this was borne a resourcefulness among all parts of society.


In health care, the medical system looked to find what could replace the medications they no longer could obtain. They looked at natural and traditional medicines like the plants that grew on their island, many of which have medicinal properties. They looked to other proven and inexpensive modalities for treatment like stress management techniques and massage. They began to use mud and the sea for treatment. And they were educated in the use of Eastern medicine and acupuncture from their Chinese friends.


The Cubans realized the need to promote prevention of disease (for which they had limited access to treatments) and to therefore encourage a true integrative approach to the patient-physician relationship, teaching medical students and physicians to talk to patients about all aspects of life that could influence health: physical, social, community, psychological and spiritual.  They mandated the education of medical students and physicians in natural and traditional medicine, so that the population can now access these treatments at every level of the health care system, from the local clinic to the hospital.


As a result, Cuba has become a real working model for integrating Natural and Traditional Medicine, what we call Integrative Medicine, into the healthcare system. They have some of the lowest costs of healthcare in the world with some of the highest quality indicators of health in the population. Personally, my passion is to show that Integrative Medicine is an approach to health care that should be available to everyone and can improve quality of health while lowering cost of health care. That is what we are doing at Venice Family Clinic. Cuba exemplifies this possibility. It affirms my belief that integrative practice can not only provide better care to people; it is an answer to the crisis we face in the American health care system, in which we force millions to use emergency rooms as their only source of care and spend more than we can afford to the point of real unsustainability, while doing a pitiful job at prevention or encouraging real health.


The Cuban health care system has validated the power and success of a focus on health, as opposed to sickness. The focus on all aspects of what influences health and the use of multiple proven modalities for treatment alongside western approaches may have come from lack and desperation, but it has developed into a model that is being exported around the world and which is worthy of emulation.




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