Zim can learn from Cuba

HARARE - The death of Fidel Castro last month was felt not only in Cuba, but in certain pockets of Zimbabwe and all over the world.

Castro’s Cuba was indeed, for most Zimbabweans and indeed Africans, a mysterious land — a place where few could visit and explore. Most of the few Zimbabweans who had the opportunity to visit the country went there for educational purposes. Unnoticed because of this sense of mystery is how progressive Cuba is in many ways such as healthcare and agriculture.

Indeed, we can borrow much from Cuba’s playbook and improve Zimbabwe’s fast deteriorating health sector.


Cuba’s healthcare model, unlike ours, is focused on access and primary care. Doctors really get to know their patients and, when someone has a problem, they can see their doctor in the clinic, usually the same day.

If you can’t imagine that happening in Zimbabwe, you are not alone. We are one of the few countries in the world without universal access to a national healthcare system.

Countries such as Cuba see healthcare as a basic right and insure everybody. Everyone gets primary care. That would be a first step.

Starting in the mid-1960s, Cubans have encouraged all medical school graduates to do at least two years of service in a rural area. That programme became so popular that by the mid-1970s, almost all new physicians were doing rural service.

Almost all Cuban medical residents do family medicine. They focus on primary care for all ages before they would go on and specialise. Meanwhile, only 35 percent of Cuban residents choose to practice a speciality — most stick to primary care.

Cuban doctors have a more altruistic mindset — they go into medicine to treat people in their communities. They’re going into it to treat people in their communities and not necessarily to make a fortune.

It’s quite the opposite of what we have, where people die in the queue because they cannot secure enough money to see a doctor.

Maybe our system would be different if we generalised more and specialised less — with the government also putting enough resources in the sector.

Medicine has a different economic system, too, in Cuba. This is an important factor. In 1999, Cuba created a school of medicine for Latin America. They bring students in, train them for six years, give them room and board and a stipend.

Afterwards, the students are required to go home and practice in poorer areas. It’s a remarkable programme, with 10 000 students now from 33 countries. Maybe we can think of developing healthcare workers the same way.

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