When Cuban Polyclinics Were Born

As discontent increases with overly expensive and totally inadequate US health care, it is time to look closely at the beginnings of the modern Cuban medical system.  Like the US, Cuba had unintegrated, overlapping medical institutions that failed the poor, especially black, population of the island.  Though several European countries have developed health care systems about 40% cheaper than the US, Cuba was able to craft health care which became more than 80% less costly than the US with a roughly equivalent life expectancy.

When the revolutionary government took the reins in 1959, millions of Cubans went without medical care.  The years 1959-1964 aimed at overcoming the crisis of care delivery as half of the island’s physicians fled.  During the second half of the decade (1964-1969) Cuba began redesigning medicine as a holistic system.  It’s created a model for poor countries that forever changed medicine.  Cuba did so largely by putting the polyclinic at the center of care delivery.

The Policlínico Integral

The term “polyclinic” (or “policlínico” in Spanish) generally refers to a medical facility offering outpatient services.  In 1961, the Cuban Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) began a study to unify preventive and curative medicine. In May 1964, it opened the first policlínico integral.  The next year, MINSAP spread the model throughout Cuba.

Staff at the new polyclinics included at least a general practice physician, nurse,…

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