Cuba: Cavities and Abscesses in the Oral Health System / Juan Juan Almeida
Juan Juan Almeida, 23 June 2017 — Located in the stately building with
its exquisite art-deco style, at the Havana intersection of Salvador
Allende Avenue (formerly Carlos III) and G Street, is the Cuban symbol
of the oral health system. Officially known as the Raúl González
Sánchez Dental Medicine Faculty, it is also on the point of collapse.
"The budget is tighter than the screws on a submarine. Most of the time
the autoclaves used for sterilization don't work, nor is there aseptic
paper to wrap the dental instruments in; but the human material is
there. Prices fluctuate between 15 and 300 CUC, according to the
treatment or the urgency," says a person who travelled from Miami to be
treated in the "signature" Havana institution.
"There is no air conditioning in the treatment room, the windows are
open and they have to position the chairs to avoid facing the sun. So
you either bring a fan, or spend an extra 50 CUC to be treated in an
operating room where there is only hygienic equipment, green clothing
and adequate air conditioning. Being treated in Cuba, besides being
cheap is folkloric," my interlocutor continues, in tone so celebratory
it provokes indignation. The saliva extractors are broken and so you
have to bring a bottle of water and towel. And when the slime
accumulates the dentist says, "spit it out."
According to the constitution currently in force on the island, the
Cuban state guarantees free medical attention to the population as one
of the fundamental social paradigms; but the Healthcare system is
suffering the restrictive effects of lack of resources because of the
economic crisis, neglect, corruption and negligence, which among other
things is a consequence of political mistakes.
"The politics of the country stipulate that the attention of every
dental clinic should be free from payment; but then there is what we
experience," explains a professor of the fames institutions, who prefers
to remain incognito, because to survive he has, at home, an old dental
chair, a light and a pedal machine.
"Unless it's an emergency, getting a regular appointment is very
complicated and the receptionists charge for facilitating it. We have to
live," he breathes deeply and recites his price list. "For a mouth exam,
prophylaxis, a light filling and a clinic diagnosis — 15 CUC. We visit
many patients, the majority with chewing problems, gingivitis,
periodontal disease. These conditions require long treatments, and this
case they cost 2 to 10 CUC per visit. There are more expensive ones that
require complex operations that in some other country would cost around
$10,000 or more. Of course, the difficulties of the country force us to
tell patients that to avoid problems they should bring their own
anesthesia and the braces should they need orthodontic treatment."
"Our prices," concludes the professional, "vary depending on the
patient. If it's a Cuban living in Cuba, a Cuban living abroad, or a
Source: Cuba: Cavities and Abscesses in the Oral Health System / Juan
Juan Almeida – Translating Cuba -