Primary care in Cuba: a public health approach

Health Care Women Int. Jul-Aug 1995;16(4):299-308. doi: 10.1080/07399339509516183.


Cuba's primary health care model is presented. Unlike ambulatory care services, which are but one component of primary care, Cuba's model is a comprehensive public health approach that meets the World Health Organization's definition of primary care. The history of the development of Cuba's model is presented, including an update on the innovative neighborhood/home clinics. Achievements in health outcomes as a result of Cuba's model and the consequences for women's health care are discussed. Examples are presented of the effects on health care delivery of the economic hardship that Cuba has experienced since 1991 as a result of the loss of 85% of its trade with the former Soviet Union and the intensified U.S. embargo. A critique of Cuba's model concludes the article.

PIP: Cuba has been able to achieve some things that few Western countries have been able to achieve: equal access to health services for the entire population and equity in health status. After the 1959 revolution, community organizations conducted a census to obtain baseline demographic and epidemiologic data about the population, a literacy campaign, and sanitary and immunization campaigns. Polyclinics provided various social, environmental, and community health services free of charge. They were geographically distributed. Cuba instituted its neighborhood/home clinic model in 1984, a holistic, family, and neighborhood approach to comprehensive health care of the community. The family physician and nurse live in the neighborhood. Health education and health promotion are central to this model. The physicians and nurses are expected to conduct research and to present their findings at congresses or in journals. Cuba's infant mortality rate is not much higher than that of the US (1993, 9.4 vs. 8.3). Major causes of death in Cuba match those in developed countries, mainly heart disease and cancer. More than 95% of pregnant women attend their first prenatal visit during the first trimester. They receive prenatal care monthly unless they have a high-risk pregnancy when they receive prenatal care once a week. Infants receive well-baby care once a month. Sex education is available to everyone. All primary care facilities provide contraception. Nevertheless, the induced abortion rate is high, which concerns the government and health providers. Key effects of the economic hardship Cuba faces caused by the fall of the Soviet Union include food rationing, emigration, increased use of traditional herbs, lack of exchange of professional literature between the US and Cuba, and lack of enough paper to continue publications of medical and nursing journals. Cuba has prioritized health and education over economic development.

MeSH terms

  • Cuba
  • Female
  • Health Services Research
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Organizational
  • Primary Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Public Health Administration*
  • Women's Health