Hirschfield discusses Cuban health care and socialized medicine

Published: March 30th, 2009

Category: News

In Michael Moore’s “Sicko,” the filmmaker portrays Cuba as an island with a great health care system.

But that’s not even close to the case, said an anthropologist who did a field study there.

“He’s not visiting what I would call the real Cuba,” said Katherine Hirschfield, a University of Oklahoma anthropologist. The Health Care Law Society brought Hirschfield to speak on Thursday about socialized medicine.

Moore showed a hospital in the movie and said he wanted the patients he brought with him to be treated exactly like native Cubans would be. That was not what he got, Hirschfield said.

“I know that hospital,” she said. “It has one floor that is completely reserved for foreigners only. It has its own pharmacy; its pharmacy is well stocked. You buy everything in American dollars on that floor of that hospital.”

She said it was also one of the best hospitals in the country and many Cubans would try to get transferred there from other hospitals.

Hirschfield spoke mostly about the problems with Cuban health care as well as that of other countries. However, she said she was for some form of health care reform in the United States.

Although much of what is written about Cuban health care is positive, Hirschfield said there are many reasons why the facts are distorted. One main reason is the lack of internet access for citizens to get the news out. In fact, Haiti has more Internet uses than Cuba, Hirschfield said.

Cuba also claims the best infant mortality rate in the hemisphere, but Hirschfield said this is because the government forces women to have abortions if there is expected to be any problems with the pregnancies.

On the contrary to the miraculous health system Cuba is portrayed to have, there are many dissident reports that describe exactly what she saw there.

“There was a secret epidemic when I was there,” Hirschfield said. “I found out about it when I got sent to the hospital with a mysterious disease and discovered that all of the hospitals were full of people with this mysterious disease, which the Cuban government said was just a virus.”

It turned out to be dengue fever, which the Cuban government had said was completely eradicated.

Hirschfield saw horrible conditions in the hospital. She did not even see a doctor in her time in the hospital.

“They did have sheets, but they were never changed,” she said. “They gave you a hospital gown and a towel. No soap, no disinfectant. One day, they did do a blood draw, and they sterilized my arm with rum because there was no disinfectant.”

Hirschfield said the National Health Service in the Great Britain has its share of problems too.

She said that some patients receive excellent care, but there are others at the opposite end of the spectrum.

“Last time I was in England, the papers were full of headlines,” she said. “The most awful one I read was this poor man could not get in to see a dentist for like a year and a half and he extracted his own tooth with a pair of pliers or something. A horrific story.”

Another problem she pointed out with the National Health Service was how doctors are evaluated, which is similar to the situation in Cuba.

“The physicians who work for the National Health Service in Great Britain – they’re salaried government employees. Their ability to be promoted or demoted is really more contingent on their functioning within that bureaucracy than their ability to make you feel good.”