Abstract

The poorer countries of the world continue to struggle with an enormous health burden from diseases that we have long had the capacity to eliminate. Similarly, the health systems of some countries, rich and poor alike, are fragmented and inefficient, leaving many population groups underserved and often without health care access entirely. Cuba represents an important alternative example where modest infrastructure investments combined with a well-developed public health strategy have generated health status measures comparable with those of industrialized countries. Areas of success include control of infectious diseases, reduction in infant mortality, establishment of a research and biotechnology industry, and progress in control of chronic diseases, among others. If the Cuban experience were generalized to other poor and middle-income countries human health would be transformed. Given current political alignments, however, the major public health advances in Cuba, and the underlying strategy that has guided its health gains, have been systematically ignored. Scientists make claims to objectivity and empiricism that are often used to support an argument that they make unique contributions to social welfare. To justify those claims in the arena of international health, an open discussion should take place on the potential lessons to be learned from the Cuban experience.

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