Cuba is one of the unsung heroes of medical tourism, as it has been
quietly attracting people from overseas for decades. The government
controls access to all local hospitals for overseas patients, and has
just relaunched Servimed.
Empresa Comercializadora de Servicios Médicos de Cuba S.A., known as
Servimed, is a state owned and run company that offers foreigners access
to the 16 Cuban hospitals and clinics that provide more than 100 types
of health services on the island, ranging from cancer treatment and drug
addiction programmes, to dentistry and cosmetic surgery. As an
organization, their work has been ongoing for more than 20 years,
initially as Servimed; later as Cubanacan Tourism and Health, then as
Tourism and Health, and now back to Servimed.
It has been hidden away, but as part of a more public international
role, the for-profit medical services company relaunched itself before
an international business audience at the recent International Havana
Fair. The expectation that President Obama will fulfil his promise to do
away with the rules that prevent most US citizens going to Cuba for
tourism or healthcare is part of the reason for the new openness.
Servimed deals with private individuals but its main role is to
coordinate the bigger-volume business of government-to-government
services. Servimed provides for-pay medical services by Cuban personnel
to governments of 15 countries; which includes medical tourism. For-pay
medical services to other governments are not new. Panama announced in
2011 that it will pay for the hands-on specialty training of Panamanian
doctors in Cuban hospitals. Also in 2010 Qatar agreed with Cuba to pay
for an undisclosed number of Cuban doctors to work in a new 54-bed
hospital in the oil-rich country. Cuba also agreed in 2010 to manage and
staff eye surgery centres in hospitals in China and Algeria.
Servimed is providing services to 15 countries this year, including
Algeria, China, Portugal, Jamaica, Qatar, Surinam and Ukraine. Cuban
medicine has become a worldwide leader in healthcare services for people
in poor and rural areas as well as in disaster zones; at least 38,000
medical workers from Cuba are currently deployed in 77 countries. Cuba
is in charge of a $690 million plan to rebuild Haiti's healthcare
infrastructure. Since 1998, the Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina
(ELAM) in Havana has been training 7200 students from all over the
world, and graduates 1500 doctors per year.
Many of these programmes are funded by Venezuela, and others by
countries such as South Africa, Brazil and Norway, but many are
subsidised by Cuba. Cuba has proposed to the European Union and Canada
that its doctors and medical services could be part of triangulated aid
service provided in developing countries; so far, no agreement has
Venezuela is paying at least $5 billion in oil and cash per year for the
services of Cuban doctors and for training of Venezuelan and
third-country medical students in Cuba. Venezuela has also funded
Operación Milagro, a billion-dollar programme led by Cuba that has given
free eye surgery to hundreds of thousands of low-income Latin Americans.
Now, the government wants to use Servimed to make Cuba's public health
services sustainable and more efficient by generating revenues from paid
for medical services and medical tourism and investing the profits in
maintenance, repair and purchase of equipment for Cuba's public health
Servimed is spearheading a Cuban effort to increase for-profit medical
exports. A Public Health Ministry document published in December 2010
said that, as part of an overhaul of Cuba's healthcare system, medical
institutions should begin to sell services to foreigners wherever
possible, "The medical services will remain free for poor countries. But
they will be sold to those whose economy allows it, with the goal of
reducing our expenses and contributing to the development of the
national health system."
The Cuban medical system now offers medical services for Canadians.
Servimed's individual subsidiary Health Services International began in
January 2007. HSI is the agency officially recognised by Turismo y Salud
and the Cuban medical system. It assists and guides medical tourists. In
the agreement between HSI (Servimed) and Turismo y Salud, anyone who
does speak Spanish will always have a medically trained person nearby
who will act as an interpreter to help the medical tourist understand
test results and to help when decisions are necessary. Many doctors and
nurses do speak English and some speak French, also.
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