The World Health Organization (WHO), an agency of the United Nations, has named a new president for its decision-making body, the World Health Assembly (WHA): Cuba’s minister of public health, Roberto Morales Ojeda — the man who oversees a socialist healthcare system in which the average Cuban must wait in long lines to receive (usually substandard) care and cannot even purchase basic necessities such as aspirin while rich tourists and government officials get top-of-the-line treatment.
According to a WHO press release, this is the first time Cuba has occupied the presidency of the WHA, which rotates annually among the six regions of the WHO.
In his first address as president of the WHA, Morales Ojeda stated that his government considers its selection to lead the assembly “a recognition of the results achieved by the national health system, which is characterized for being unique, free, accessible, with universal coverage.” This, of course, is precisely the sort of healthcare system run or sought by many members of the WHO, and thus it is worth considering just how Morales Ojeda’s claims stack up to reality.
For starters, the system isn’t “free.” Every resident of Cuba pays for it with his personal liberty. The communist government, notwithstanding recent, small moves in the direction of economic freedom, still tightly controls its subjects’ lives. Most Cubans work for the government, earning an average of about $19 a month; those employed privately are subject to an income tax; food and other necessities are rationed; and dissent from the party line is prohibited. Even then, the “free” care still costs them: Cubans complain of having to bring their own bedclothes and food with them to the hospital, and “many patients ... bring their doctors food, money or other gifts to get to the front of the queue or to guarantee an appointment for an X-ray, blood test or operation,” Al Jazeera’s Lucia Newman reported in 2012.
How about the Cuban system’s accessibility and “universal coverage”? It all depends, it seems, on who is seeking access.
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