Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 6th 2017 Contents B4 life
guardian.co.tt Thursday, July 6, 2017
For a dollar, Cuban podiatrist Serafin Bar-
ca will spend a half hour cutting the corns
off a senior citizen's foot, or nearly an hour
removing a stubborn wart.
The 80-year-old is among the last private med-
ical workers in communist Cuba, which prides
itself on its free, universal state health care and
which has barred the creation of new private
medical practices since 1963---the year Barca
graduated in his specialty after four years of study.
Barca is busy from morning until night treating
patients frustrated with the inefficiency of the
"The service is of higher quality," Barca said.
"If you get a patient and you don't treat them
well ... you don't get them back."
Some Cubans believe that allowing more private
practices would improve services and help ease
the state's burden, allowing it to concentrate on
more complicated surgeries and treatments that
require sophisticated technology.
A growing number of Cubans in recent years
have begun to complain about the quality of free
medical services, which many say has been af-
fected by doctors leaving on international health
missions or moving to countries such as the US
in search of higher salaries and a better quality
Martha Garcia, a 72-year-old retiree, has been
visiting Barca for her foot problems for more than
"I could go to the Policlinico, but I don't get
the help I need when I've gone because they say
they don't have the necessary equipment," she
said of a free health clinic in Havana.
She envisions private practices for optome-
trists, physiotherapists and others.
"This would allow the state to take charge of
more complex things," she said.
Cuba continued to allow private medical prac-
tices for the first few years after the 1959 revolu-
tion. But as the country veered toward socialism
and the health system was nationalised, about
half of Cuba's doctors poured out of the country,
leaving only about 5,000.
The revolutionary government poured resourc-
es into healthcare, and there are now 70,000 doc-
tors---many of whom serve on medical missions in
other countries, which have become a significant
source of income for the government.
Only a handful of private practitioners remain
because no new ones have been allowed in more
than half a century.
President Raul Castro has allowed the legal pri-
vatisation of businesses ranging from cafeterias
to masonries to hair salons, but professionals in-
cluding doctors and engineers, lawyers and archi-
tects have not been given the same opportunity.
For now, there are no signs state authorities will
expand that liberalisation to the medical field,
considered strategic by the government.
Officials have tried to raise awareness among
Cubans about the value of its medical services,
Posters at clinics across the island tell patients
of the costs the government is paying: a consul-
tation is US$1, an X-ray nearly US$4, an MRI
US$32 and a gallbladder surgery US$36---costs
dramatically lower than in most nations due in
part to the low salaries for medical workers, but
still significant to Cubans, who on average make
the equivalent of about US$20 to US$30 a month.
Still, a few Cubans prefer paying for private
treatment. Among them is Mayra Hernandez, a
55-year-old hotel worker who said getting treated
by Barca is worth paying for the bus trip to his
office and the fee he charges.
"He's the best podiatrist in Havana and all of
Cuba," she said, adding that she visited public
clinics but was unable to get the treatment she
Despite price, Cubans choose
dose of private medicine
In this June 8 photo, podiatrist Serafin Barca poses for a photo with a patient in
his clinic in Havana, Cuba. AP PHOTO
She said she'd been tenth in line at one when
"the specialist came out and said, 'I have five
scalpels and that's it.'"
Barca said he will continue to welcome patients
into his crowded office as his health permits. He
works four seven-hour days a week.
"I like my profession," he said as he sat in his
small office with worn seats and aging furniture
that seemed frozen in time since the 1950s.
"Everyone who had a private practice was al-
lowed to work until they retired or died. I'll be
here until I die." (AP)
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