Building Bridges to Better Health – Cuban Collaborations

Why Cuba?

Cuba is an example where modest infrastructure investments, combined with a well-developed public health strategy has generated health status measures comparable with industrialized countries. Focusing on the primary care level through the polyclinics as an important core and with the family doctor and nurse teams, Cuba has many areas of success including: reduction of infant and maternal mortality, control of infectious diseases, progress in control of chronic diseases, and establishment of a research and biotechnology industry, among others.

Professor Fraser Mustard was interested in the Cuban experience when he learned that Cuba gives priority to health care and education, particularly for children and pregnant women, and promotes the values of social cohesion and equity among individuals, regions, and genders. Through its public policies and programs, the state seeks to ensure that children enjoy the same level of comprehensive development services and have the same opportunities to develop and succeed in school and in other aspects of life. This is the base of the National Child Development System in Cuba.

A Memorandum of Understanding between the University of Toronto and the University of Medical Sciences of Havana was signed to support ongoing and future research collaborations.


Cuba’s Health and Educational Programs


The majority of Cuban children take part in a non-institutional program called Educa a Tu Hijo [Educate Your Child]. This program was designed to coach and empower families to stimulate their child’s integrated development, based on their own experience, interests and needs.

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The centrepiece of this system is the community-based polyclinic. The polyclinics act also as the organizational hub for 20 to 40 neighbourhood-based family doctor-and-nurse offices, and as accredited research and teaching centres for medical, nursing and allied health sciences students.

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The Cuban national health system has made important contributions to improve childhood outcomes. In particular, the Maternal-Child Health Program aims to provide comprehensive care to mother and children through prevention, promotion, treatment and rehabilitation services. Our first research collaboration project around breastfeeding: “Increasing the Rates of Exclusive Breastfeeding: An Approach to Non-Communicable Disease Prevention” is being conducted by Professor Cindy Lee Dennis and our liaison with Cuba: Dr. Yeneir Vera in collaboration with the Cuban National Growth and Human Development Group.

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Additional resources on the Cuban Early Childhood programs and lessons for Canada:

Women and Children First. Editorial, International Journal of Cuban Health and Medicine: Maternal & Child Health in Cuba. January 2015.

Scaling-up Early Chils Development in Cuba. Cuba’s Educate Your Child Program: Strategies
and Lessons from the Expansion Process

Alfredo R. Tinajero

Well Child Care: A Comprehensive Strategy for Cuban Children and Adolescents
Mercedes Esquivel MD PhD, Gisela Álvarez MD MS, María Elena Izquierdo MD MS, Daisy Martínez MD MS, Vilma Tamayo MD MS

Cuba’s system of maternal health and early childhood development: lessons for Canada
Wilbert J. Keon MD