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    Cuba looks to medical tourism as income source

    30 JULY 2013 – 09H39

    Cuba looks to medical tourism as income source

    AFP – Football legend Diego Maradona blazed a path for Cuba to become a
    medical tourism destination when he traveled to the island for drug
    addiction treatment in 2000.

    Since then, thousands of other famous and not-so-famous faces have
    traveled here for help, and the government wants to build on that success.

    Drug rehab, post-accident motor skills rehabilitation, treatment for eye
    diseases and plastic surgery — foreign patients can get all of these
    services and more in Cuba, and at competitive prices.

    “I’ve improved tremendously. Now I can move my arms and my legs, and I
    can almost sit down by myself,” said Venezuelan Cruz Ramos, who arrived
    in Cuba two months ago, so injured after a car accident that he could
    only move his eyes.

    In downtown Havana, at a clinic that specializes in eye procedures,
    fellow Venezuelan Carlos Armando Montana gushes about the services.

    “Medical attention here is excellent, as much for the quality of the
    doctors as for the atmosphere and the facilities,” said Montana, 24, who
    underwent a retina transplant after losing the use of his left eye in a
    fireworks accident.

    Cuba has long been known for producing quality doctors and providing
    excellent medical services, and as the communist government of President
    Raul Castro seeks to revive the island’s moribund economy, it is turning
    to medical tourism as a revenue generator.

    Cuba’s main source of foreign income is the sale of medical services to
    other countries — legions of doctors and nurses, who are public
    employees, travel abroad to work following an agreement with the host
    country.

    While this generates billions of dollars a year, the related field of
    medical tourism is still in its infancy.

    Servimed, a government-owned for-profit medical services company that
    caters to foreigners, has website pages in Spanish, French and English,
    the last two aimed mostly at Canadians.

    “Cuba is a poor country which has placed its priorities in the right
    places, which is to say, in education and health services,” reads the site.

    “We offer the opportunity to be seen and treated by qualified doctors
    without the delays that one would encounter while trying to visit a
    doctor in Canada.”

    Cuba welcomed 2.8 million tourists in 2012, according to official
    figures. There are no figures however on how many of those foreigners
    came specifically for medical treatment.

    “Cuba has the best doctors in the world,” said Maradona after being
    treated for drug addiction.

    The Argentine football legend, who befriended Fidel Castro, was so
    enamored with the island that he has a tattoo of Che Guevara on his
    right shoulder and an image of Fidel tattooed on his left ankle.

    African and Latin American leaders have also sought medical attention in
    Cuba, including Ecuador’s Rafael Correa and — most notably — the late
    Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.

    At Havana’s Cira Garcia Clinic, reserved for foreigners, breast
    augmentation surgery costs $1,248 (940 euros), compared to around $6,000
    in the United States, $4,350 in Britain and $2,500 in Mexico, according
    to figures from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and
    Development (OECD).

    “In this clinic we handle all types of medical specialties,” said deputy
    director Maria Antonieta Gonzalez. And if an in-house expert is
    unavailable, one can be borrowed from another hospital, she said.

    There are plenty to choose from: Cuba has the highest number of doctors
    per residents in the world — one per 148 inhabitants, according to the
    World Health Organization.

    In other countries, “what makes procedures expensive are the doctors,
    but in Cuba, they are paid like everyone else,” Gonzalez said.

    What adds to the cost however is the difficulty in obtaining medical
    supplies, which cannot be bought in the nearby United States due to a
    trade embargo in place for a half-century, Gonzalez said.

    On any given day there are 2,000 patients at the Cira Garcia from around
    the world. Most come from Latin America, but there are also patients
    from places like Angola, Canada, Spain, and even Cuban-Americans from
    the US.

    Other Havana hospitals, like the Hermanos Ameijeiras and the Gonzalez
    Coro, have opened “international rooms” to cash in on the influx of
    foreigners.

    Hotels are getting into the business too, with places like El Viejo y el
    Mar (The Old Man and the Sea), Triton and Neptuno catering to medical
    tourists.

    Aside from foreigners who pay in much-needed hard currency, thousands of
    Venezuelans travel to Cuba each year for free medical treatment,
    benefitting from an agreement that Chavez signed with Fidel Castro, then
    president, in 2000.

    There are 43 health centers in Cuba that cater to Venezuelans, with the
    government in Caracas picking up the tab.

    Source: “Cuba looks to medical tourism as income source – FRANCE 24″ –
    http://www.france24.com/en/20130730-cuba-looks-medical-tourism-income-source

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