Cuba.  It’s only 90 miles south of the United States of America.  Last year, Patients Beyond Borders estimated some 1,400,000 Americans would travel outside of the US to find medical treatment.  Where are they going?  The Mexican option may end soon.  Costa Rica?  India and Thailand?  Massive distances to travel especially when the patient is perhaps unwell.

Although medical tourism is a relatively new industry, it’s these kind of numbers that indicate there’s a huge profit to be made for providing health services to traveling patients.  The traditional destinations for medical tourism patients have been countries such as Mexico, Costa Rica, India, Israel, Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Turkey.  But with horror stories of surgeries gone wrong, the extended traveling distances or the political turmoil in some of these destinations, who needs that?  All these worrisome issues are about to be resolved by that little gem of an island, due south of the United States.

Cuba offers a climate that is conducive to recovery, but this is not unique.  There’s plenty of other places with beaches in paradise settings, but they lack the same level of skilled doctors.  Other countries can also present a language barrier and culture shock a patient may not be ready to experience in times of sickness.

Cuba’s star as a coveted medical tourism destination is about to shine brightly.  Not that it hasn’t been shining already for many years passed.  Surprising news to some, this is not a new industry in Cuba.

Cuba has been providing medical tourism services for years, so the Island is not the latest newcomer on the block to this lucrative market.  Healthcare globally is suffering from government cutbacks.  It’s unknown what is about to pass in the U.S.  As the Canadian medical system sinks into slow decline with ever-increasing wait times for services, as its government writes off of more services and prices for pharmaceuticals sky rocket  – even Canadians have been  heading south to Cuba specifically for medical or cosmetic treatments.

The world may not have heard much about Cuba’s medical tourism until perhaps 2000 when the football player, Diego Maradona flew to Cuba for drug addiction treatment.  Thousands of other famous and not-so-famous people have traveled to the Island.  Cuba offers all medical treatments, surgeries, therapies, drug rehab, post-accident motor skills rehabilitation, treatment for eye diseases and plastic surgery at competitive prices.

American patients too have been traveling south to Cuba for medical treatment although via third countries.  Probably by the time one gets cancer, political correctness starts to lose its relevance.  Recently, the story of lung cancer patient Mick Phillips who went traveled to Cuba hit the news.  Guaranteed, he was not the first American to do so.

Apart from the location, what other factors contribute to Cuba’s rising star as a medical tourism destination?  Contributing to its success is government investment in people, health care, education, research and development, and its medical internationalism program.  These have been chief priorities for the Cuban government.

There is a chain reaction that results from a government’s investment in its citizens’ well being.  Beginning with the investment in the education of its children has resulted in a literary rate higher than that of the U.S.  Once jokingly called “the Doctor Factory” because of the high number of med students that graduate as doctors, this “factory” has produced some incredible experts in the field of medicine.  This is significant in that doctors can pursue education without being limited by financial constraints. These doctors are also experienced and up-to-date with the latest developments in the medical world.

Investment in health care has produced an extensive health care system for its people.  Researchers have created some of the most in-demand medications in the world to date.  There are specialized hospitals in Cuba which focus on every specialty in medicine and many of these also also serve as training facilities.

Not only has the Island trained its own doctors, Cuba offers free medical education to foreign students at its very well-known Latin American School of Medicine, west of Havana.  U.S. students who graduate can then apply for residency placements back home in the U.S. The medical school graduates must be willing to “give back to the community” and work in low income areas of need in the U.S.

Further government investment in research and development has led to astonishing number of new medicines for the treatment of serious illnesses.  Boosting the reputation of Cuban pharmaceuticals, the recent discoveries of new vaccines by medical researchers include vaccines for cancer (CIMAVAX-EGF), Dengue Fever, Meningitis-B, Racotumomab, Hepatitis-B and the new clinical trials of an HIV vaccine.

One of this country’s primary income earners is Cuban international medical services.  Cuba sends medical teams to assist in times of tragedy and natural disasters.  Cuban doctors also venture into impoverished communities around the globe.  However, Cuba also generates income by selling its healthcare and doctors to wealthier countries and this is a boost to the Cuban economy.  Cuban doctors are not only treating patients, but they also act as advisories in establishing medical services in some of the most remote places on earth.  Cuba’s healthcare system has a reputation as one of the best in the world.

It’s also a question of affordability.  Cuba offers treatments and procedures at a fraction of the price.  A report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) states the cost of breast augmentation surgery at $1,668 in Cuba,  $6,000+ in the U.S., $5,000+ in Canada, $4,350 in the United Kingdom and Mexico, from $2,165 to $ 5,999. 

A tummy tuck in Cuba is approximately 2,340 CUC, but in the U.S. $5,000 to $6,000, in Canada $8,000 to $10,500 plus tax.

Breast implants in Cuba start at $2,000, but in the U.S. $3,708, in Canada, $6,000 to $9,000.

Dental services such as root canals and crowns in Cuba will cost about 550 CUC for a root canal and crown.  In the U.S. and  Canada will cost upwards of $1,000.  These prices can vary depending on the needs of the patient.

There are many hospitals and clinics in Cuba for almost every type of  speciality in the field of disease.  Most hospitals are ISO 9001:2008 certified by both the National Bureau of Standardization (ONN) and Bureau Veritas.  This type of  accreditation certifies that hygiene standards, work-place security, environment and general quality control have been met and have surpassed international standards of healthcare.

With all of these factors, it is strong supporting evidence that Cuba shines as a medical tourism destination. It is only a matter of time before Cuba becomes the primary destination for medical tourism in the hemisphere.  Take away the American embargo and patients seeking surgery or treatment overseas will have to sign up fast.

This article was first published on the Cuba Business Report.

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2 Thoughts to “Cuba’s Rising Star in the Medical Tourism Industry”

  1. Health Editor

    Thank you for catching that typo. Your idea is a very good one that Cuba set up retirement communities for non-Cubans. It would be a win-win solution.

  2. Walter Teague

    Very interesting web page and program, but you have a few typos. For example in the section on Cuba medical tourism, “Cuba’s star as a coveted medical tourism destination is about the shine brightly.” should read “is about to shine brightly.”

    As a retired social worker and someone who was supported the Cuban Revolution from the beginning, I am glad to see and I hope that this program little flourish and expand. I also think if possible cuba should consider setting up retirement communities for non-Cubans who can afford to pay for it. These facilities should not be isolated, but integrated into Cuban towns within cities. In the United States most of the time the elderly can no longer stay at home are put in nursing homes which even if they are well equipped, I’m not very nice places to live. They’re usually isolated from normal life and the families and children visit seldom if at all. The ones that are well-equipped in the US can cost thousands of dollars a week. Even these expensive facilities tend to hire untrained and poorly paid immigrants to do the actual work. The doctors and the supervisory staff are reasonably well-paid but their interaction with residence is very limited. What is missing is access to community. at a minimum the residents should be able to spend time watching the flow of traffic on the street we’re sitting when they’re able at a cafe for coffee Etc.

    The elderly without any money end up in nursing homes paid for by Medicare and Medicaid after the first 30 days or so and the quality of care and equipment is much worse.

    So if it becomes possible For Americans, your closest Neighbors to spend Medicare money in Cuba, it would be a good opportunity for both countries and especially for the elderly.

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