Cuba’s health 'miracle': lessons for Australia

Dr Kath spent five years – including nine months in Cuba – conducting research for her recently released book, Social Relations and the Cuban Health Miracle (Transaction Publishers, 2010, $49.95).

The book looks beyond the statistics to analyse the true story behind Cuba’s health outcomes, explaining how the country has managed to improve public health on a limited budget, but also unveiling significant challenges within its health system.

“That a poor country facing multiple internal and external crises has been so successful in improving key health outcomes – particularly maternal, infant and under-five mortality rates – should be a point of interest for Australia,” she said.

“While Cuba and Australia are very different contexts, the well-known successes and less-known limitations of the Cuban case carry many relevant lessons for Australia, particularly in the bid to ‘close the gap’ on Indigenous health inequality.

“What we can learn from Cuba generally is that health, and especially maternal-child health, is not only a question of spending and financial resources. Improving health outcomes among our most disadvantaged communities relies as much on social, non-economic investments as it does on resource mobilisation.”

Dr Kath found factors underlying Cuba’s ability to improve its maternal-infant and other health outcomes included:

  • a sustained, long-term pursuit of clear health goals;
  • a proactive system of surveillance and prevention to avert risk factors;
  • access to free basic health services close to home;
  • institutionalised relationships ensuring close and regular contact between health workers and the population; and,
  • inter-sectoral and inter-institutional cooperation in the pursuit of health goals.

Dr Kath, a research fellow with the RMIT Global Cities Research Institute, said a lack of genuine community participation in health decision-making had contributed to a number of emergent problems that threatened to undermine the sustainability of Cuba’s positive health achievements.

“One of the lessons for Australia from my research is the vital importance of ensuring local Indigenous communities are not only participants in the discussion and implementation of health policy, but that they are also genuinely incorporated into the individual and collective health decision-making process,” she said.

Social Relations and the Cuban Health Miracle will be launched in Melbourne at 6pm on Thursday, 9 September. To RSVP email: [email protected]

For general media enquiries: RMIT University Communications, Gosia Kaszubska, (03) 9925 3176 or 0417 510 735.