297th Meeting – Tuesday, January 15th 2008

Swimming Against the Tide: The Cuban Health System  
A 47-minute documentary film produced & directed by Tom Fawthrop

 Tom Fawthrop has worked on several assignments in Cuba and visited this Caribbean Island on 6 occasions since 1995.

Tom introduced the film and discussed and answered questions:

How is it possible that a poor nation like Cuba can achieve health indicators - low infant mortality and longevity - on a par with the world's richer nations? Over 200 Cubans are centenarians and on average live until they are around 76, a higher life expectancy than most countries in Asia.

In several fields of medical research - new vaccines, new therapies, and ground-breaking anti-cancer agents - this small Caribbean nation is challenging the pharmaceutical empires of the West.

Not widely known, Cuba is already exporting their intellectual property and medical patents to China, India and Malaysia including a new generation of anti-cancer therapies.

How is it possible that cash-strapped Cuba and one of the financially poorer nations, has achieved so much with so few resources? And that one of the world's poorer nations can offer to help the US - the world's richest - to cope with Hurricane Katrina? Cuba offered to send hundreds of doctors to New Orleans in 2005. Currently around 30,000 health personnel -doctors, nurses etc are serving in humanitarian missions abroad covering 68 countries, this includes long-term medical aid programs in Haiti, Mali, Gambia, Guinea, East Timor, South Africa and the Solomon Islands, and emergency aid given to victims of natural disasters –Tsunami and earthquakes in Pakistan and Indonesia. From Havana to Haiti, from Pakistan to the Pacific Islands lives have been saved and public health systems strengthened by the intervention of Cuban medical teams.

At a time when public health systems are in crisis and a tide of privatisation of healthcare has gripped the globe, this documentary looks in depth at one health system that is swimming against the currents of corporate globalization. This documentary traces the development of the new health system from its beginnings after the 1959 Cuban revolution to the present-day. Cuban doctors from all fields - primary health care and family doctors, medical researchers and the island's highly developed capacity for the production of some of the world's best vaccines, neurologists and eye-surgeons all tell their story.

But their work around the world is much less-known than MSF Doctors without Borders. One of the batches of students from the USA studying in Cuba tells us in the film “They have Cuban doctors in so many countries but you never hear about it.” This unreported world is the subject of this film.     

 For more information contact and DVDs EurekaCuba@gmail.com