Fidel Castro took charge of Cuba in 1959. At the start of the revolution, 1/4 of the population were illiterate and living in poverty. 1/2 died before the age of 60, and only 1/2 of all children went to school.
The main causes of Castro’s “special period” were the break down of the Soviet Bloc, a reliance on soviet nations to supply almost everything to the country, a trade embargo and a massive nationwide food shortage. The food problem was solved by the increased use of sustainable organic farming, with 10,000 urban gardens to grow food within cities. To this day, one of the main study areas emphasised in higher education in Cuba is agriculture, with the other two being Medicine and Sciences.
The rivers within Cuba became very polluted due to their starting development. There was a huge demand for clean water from the gardens, yet not enough money to build water treatment plants, despite the prevalence of old factories along the river polluting freely, leading to a high concentration of contaminants. Furthermore, there was no real sewage treatment system. A scheme was devised to mostly use a natural wetland replacement to remove most of the waste products. Plants are by no means a perfect filter for pollution, but they do help significantly, supposedly leading to a 85% removal of pollution from the water sources.
Cuba has had some major benefits for its development; their water cleaning scheme has helped to prevent waterborne disease, and they can now buy solar panels for use in schools. All children can now go to school, where they are guaranteed an education anywhere. This has lead to some very small schools across the country.
Cuba has a strong focus on Preventative Medicine. There is 1 doctor for every 170 people in Cuba. Each doctor spends 4 hours a day within their clinics and 4.5 hours on house visits, which is referred to as “integrated general practice medicine”. It is easier for a doctor to observe the patient’s symptoms in a home setting, and also helps to relax the patient. This system is entirely free.
As a result of this, Cuba has the lowest infant mortality rate of any developing country, which is lower than some areas of North America. Their health care system is so renowned in the Americas, that many US doctors receive training there, as well as doctors from other countries; this comes with the caveat that they are not able to afford their education within their home country, or that their home country has no proper medical schools. For instance, Belize has no medical schools, and all their doctors are trained within Cuba as a result. During aid drives, Cuba rarely sends any money, but instead sends huge medical teams out to disaster events.
Traditional medicine is actually encouraged in Cuba, largely because of a lack of money. Patients can normally choose what type of treatment to prioritise in their own health care. It’s thought that the traditional medicine is good for treating the whole of a person, and the locals claim it gives different results to just western medicine. It’s unclear exactly how effective any of these treatments are, but many modern medicines are loosely based off of traditional remedies, so it’s entirely possible that a good proportion (it won’t be all) are quite effective.
Cuba has spent a lot of funding on biotechnology, which has helped to ensure there are a variety of cheap and effective drugs available for Cubans. This has helped to keep the health care free for all citizens, with a lowered government cost. 1500 citizens are employed in biotechnology, and have developed several drugs and vaccines, and has eradicated some tropical diseases from within Cuba.
Tourism has created an issue for Cuba in recent years as the government is used to controlling the supply of goods and currency. Tourists demand to have control of funding properly, which meant that a second currency had to be made; the Convertible Pesal is worth 25x as much as the Cuban Pesal. Tourism has also lead to inequality; tourist guides can earn as much in an afternoon as doctors will in a month (roughly equivalent to US$25 a month).
Cuba is in a fragile position at the moment. Castro’s reign was autocratic, so few politicians were trained to manage the country. A few trusted advisers seem to have taken charge for now, but it is hard to discern how the country will function in the long term.