Book Review – Revolutionary Doctors: How Venezuela and Cuba Are Changing the World’s Conception of Health Care
Written by Ramona Wadi
Tuesday, 27 September 2011 16:51
“Often we need to change our concepts, not only the general concepts, the social or philosophical ones, but also sometimes our medical concepts.” – Ernesto Che Guevara.
Modelled on Che Guevara’s principles and keeping in line with the Cuban revolution, Steve Brouwer’s assessment of Cuba’s health care system in his book Revolutionary Doctors: How Venezuela and Cuba Are Changing the World’s Conception of Health Care (Monthly Review Press, July 2011) stands as a testimony to answer anyone claiming that socialism cannot function. Cuban doctors have regaled people in Latin America and around the world with medical opportunities which, in capitalist ideology and implementation, remain remote. While Cubans are provided free health care provided by medics who are dedicated to science and society, the United States has created a scheme based on profits, which marginalizes a major segment of the population who cannot afford costly treatment.
Che Guevara, himself a doctor, always reiterated the responsibility of helping the oppressed. Having observed the effects of poverty and social class during his travels in Latin America, his revolutionary consciousness stemmed from the concept of restoring dignity to the poor who were oppressed and neglected by dictatorships. Reaffirming Che’s philosophy, at the ELAM (Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina) medical school in Cuba, an inscription of Fidel Castro’s words greets the students. “This will be a battle of solidarity against selfishness.” Striving against the reluctance of the minority who view a career medicine as an opportunity to achieve higher social status, ELAM’s philosophy is “transforming the doctor’s privilege into a doctor’s responsibility.”
Immediately after the triumph of the revolution, the health care system in Cuba underwent major changes. Despite a shortage of doctors, many of them having left to practice in the US and thereby retain prestige and social status, Cuba invested heavily in social welfare. Health care services were nationalized, medicine prices were reduced and treatment fees were gradually eliminated. By the end of 1960, Cuban doctors were employed in a system that provided free health care to all Cubans….