Experts: Cuba Contrives Its Healthcare Statistics

Thursday, 06 Mar 2014 10:24 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Cuba is inflating its healthcare statistics, and the country's real situation is nothing like the rosy picture Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin painted earlier this year, say medical experts and Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

Harkin visited the communist country in January, telling reporters after his visit that while Cuba is poor, its "public health system is quite remarkable," and that it has a lower child mortality rate and a higher life expectancy than the United States, The Washington Free Beacon reported.

In reality, Rubio said, the situation is different.

"I wonder if the government officials who hosted him, informed him that in Cuba there are instances reported, including by defectors, that if a child only lives a few hours after birth, they’re not counted as a person who ever lived, and, therefore, don’t count against the mortality rate," Rubio said.

"I heard him [Harkin] also talk about these great doctors that they have in Cuba, and I have no doubt they're very talented; I've met a bunch of them," the Florida Republican said. "You know where I met them? In the United States, because they defected. Because, in Cuba, doctors would rather drive a taxicab or work in a hotel than be a doctor."

Cuba has been contriving its health data since the Fidel Castro revolution in 1959, said Dr. Rodolfo Stusser, who is a former adviser to the Cuban Ministry of Public Health.

In research presented to the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy, Stusser said the country's infant and gross mortality rates had been in a decline even before Castro's takeover, However, the Cuban government has "systematically erased" any healthcare successes in the previous colonial and republican eras.

In 1958, before Castro, Cuba's infant mortality rate was 14th in the world, Stusser said. Now, according to the CIA's World Factbook, Cuba is in 42nd place.

The mortality rate, which measures deaths of living fetuses older than 21 weeks, would be even higher, but Cuban doctors are pressured to induce abortions for problem pregnancies to artificially lower the rate, Stusser said. If those deaths were reported, he estimates, the infant mortality rate would up to 50 percent higher.

Katherine Hirschfeld, who chairs the University of Oklahoma anthropology department, said she saw similar practices when she was in Cuba in the 1990s. Abortions of fetuses with abnormalities is pushed, she said, because the country does not have neonatal wards to prevent deaths of children born with defects, which would force the mortality rate up.

There are also questions about reports of Cuba's life expectancy rate, which is 78.05 years, compared to 78.62 years in the United States. The Pan American Health Organization, however, gave Cuba a higher rate, but Hirschfeld said the PAHO's data relies on self-reported statistics that are not verified.

Cuban officials also are not acknowledging disease outbreaks, said Hirschfeld. While she was there, she contracted dengue fever and was put in a hospital where medications were not offered and there was limited medical assistance.

Cuba was able to eradicate diseases like smallpox before the United States, said Stusser. But when Castro nationalized the health system, the country's private initiatives and partnerships were banned and the biotechnology industry suffered.

In addition, Cuba's doctors are often poorly trained, and the better hospitals are reserved for the wealthy or foreigners, he said.

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