Cuban health service 'an example to Ireland'

Ireland’s crippling health service could learn from Cuba’s public health system, it was claimed today.

Ireland’s crippling health service could learn from Cuba’s public health system, it was claimed today.

An academic said the Caribbean island has a world class health service despite being economically poor.

A study by Dr Una Lynch, of Queen’s University, Belfast, revealed that while both governments give about 7% of GDP on health, Ireland spends some 10 times more because of economic differences.

The medic said that despite this, infant mortality in both countries is the same and life expectancy is very similar – 78 in Ireland and 77 in Cuba.

“Health outcomes, such as infant mortality and life expectancy are closely correlated with a country’s wealth and GDP,” said Dr Lynch, a nurse and midwife based in the university’s School of Law.

“Countries with higher GDP generally have better health outcomes. Cuba is different in this regard.

“Despite being described as a third-world country, life expectancy and infant mortality in Cuba are comparable with Ireland and other high income countries.

“Cuba has in many ways been silenced and all too often we receive negative news from the country. It has managed to create a world class health system, however.”

Dr Lynch said although the government launched a new health strategy in November 2001, placing the development of Primary Care at the centre of the Irish health service, there has been a lack of progress against this strategy.

“Cuba, on the other hand, placed Primary Care at the centre of its health service in the mid 1980’s and has since developed a highly effective model for delivering healthcare,” she continued.

“The Cubans have succeeded in developing a health system which is flexible and responsive to current and evolving needs, a system which is truly fit for purpose.

“Here in Ireland, and in the UK, we look at where we want to go and find reasons for why we can’t get there. Cuba looks at where it wants to go and comes up with a system which is responsive to its needs.

“If we are to have a health system based on equity, we need to ensure that citizens are actively involved and that service development is responsive to current and future needs.”

Dr Lynch recently presented her findings to Irish health care professionals, academics and students at the University of Limerick, and to members of the MRSA and families network.

Peader Kirby, Professor of International Politics and Public Policy at University College Limerick said the study should be seen by health workers and planners the length and breadth of Ireland.

“As a nurse, she was able to evaluate the Cuban medical system in a far more incisive way that could most social scientists and so has produced a body of evidence that is of major significance,” he added.

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