Cuba can teach us a lesson in public health

September 22, 2016

Cassie in CubaI recently had the opportunity to join a Washington State delegation to Cuba on a health care fact-finding and exchange mission. Led by the lieutenant governor and several members of the Senate Health Care Committee, it was a fascinating trip. The Cubans are excited about the opportunity to renew ties and friendships with the United States, and we were warmly welcomed wherever we went.

In particular, I was totally inspired by the leaders of the major hospital in Havana. They spoke of their work as a calling to make sure everyone has the opportunity to live a healthy life and in healthy communities, and they are achieving remarkable results with very limited resources. Their passion and dedication make them kindred spirits to our hospital leaders.

Cuba’s focus on population health and prevention is remarkable. The Cuban population is 100 percent vaccinated against 13 diseases. I asked the minister of health what they did if someone chose not to get vaccinated. He looked at me like I had two heads and said, “They could opt out. But why would they? These are communicable diseases that killed our people, our babies. Not being vaccinated simply does not make sense.” Their infant mortality is lower than ours. They have had only three cases of Zika while being surrounded by countries teeming with Zika. They drained all fountains (imagine the outcry this would cause in Florida), they fumigate, they send community health workers door-to-door to look for and eliminate mosquito-breeding sites. Meanwhile, we are still debating funding Zika prevention.

There are many ways that partnerships may be available in health care and biotech down the road. They have developed a treatment for diabetic foot ulcers that we do not have. They have patented it here but cannot sell it. The physicians on our trip were salivating over the results. It will be exciting to be a part of what might develop.

Cassie Sauer
WSHA Executive Vice President and incoming CEO


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