Three faculty members from the College of Community Health Sciences and a resident physician from the College’s Family Medicine Residency traveled as part of a University of Alabama team to Cuba for six days in January 2014 to learn about that country’s healthcare system.
The group learned about the structure of the Cuban healthcare system and how it delivers care, particularly at the community level; established relationships with the Cuban Health Ministry and Medical Science University; and explored the development of a “pipeline” with the Latin American Medical School in Havana. Such a pipeline would assist medical students in Havana to make summer visits to UA and the College and graduates to consider the College’s Family Medicine Residency. The pipeline could also offer the Latin American Medical School in Havana as a medical school option for Alabama students, perhaps those from underserved and Black Belt communities.
“The Cubans have systematically built a rational, resource-frugal, yet effective healthcare system that ranks just below the United States in the World Health Organization rankings despite drastic differences in resources, infrastructure and philosophy,” says College Dean Richard Streiffer, MD, who participated in the Cuba trip.
He says like the mission of the College, the Cuban healthcare system is based on the family medicine-nurse team and neighborhood-centered primary care, as well as on a strong public health orientation.
“Cuba has largely eliminated the severe disparities of access, advancing the overall health of their population to near that of the United States and all at a fraction of the per capita costs seen in the United States,” Streiffer says. “The lessons potentially to be learned from collaborating with the Cuban healthcare and medical education systems seem particularly applicable to Alabama, a state with more than its share of health disparities, poor outcomes and resource-poor communities.”