A timely examination of human values and the health issues that affect us all, ¡Salud! looks at the curious case of Cuba, a cash-strapped country with what the BBC calls ‘one of the world’s best health systems.’ From the shores of Africa to the Americas, !Salud! hits the road with some of the 28,000 Cuban health professionals serving in 68 countries, and explores the hearts and minds of international medical students in Cuba — now numbering 30,000, including nearly 100 from the USA. Their stories plus testimony from experts around the world bring home the competing agendas that mark the battle for global health—and the complex realities confronting the movement to make healthcare everyone’s birth right.
Against the alarming backdrop of the global health crisis and deteriorating public health systems in even the richest nations, ¡Salud! tells the little-known story of Cuba: a poor country overcoming its lack of resources to provide universal health care and help other developing nations do the same.
A feature documentary, ¡Salud! is directed by Academy Award nominee Connie Field and co-produced by Gail Reed. The film spans three continents to look at the philosophy and health professionals placing Cuba on the map in the worldwide movement to make health care a global birthright. Today, Cubans are among the world’s healthiest people, despite the island’s poverty. Cuba’s volunteer corps now posts 28,000 health professionals in 68 countries; and Cuban medical schools will graduate an unprecedented 100,000 new doctors from developing countries over the next decade.
The film’s cameras reach into The Gambia, rural South Africa, coastal villages of Honduras and river settlements in the Amazon, where a Cuban is often the first doctor a poor community has ever seen. In some nations they staff entire health systems. In all, they take with them the experience and philosophy of their own community-oriented, preventive and universal health care model fundamentally at odds with a global wave of healthcare privatization.
¡Salud! questions what propels Cuban doctors to serve where most others won’t, and grapples with the tensions their presence sometimes provokes.
A FILM ABOUT THE PRESSING HEALTH ISSUES THE WORLD FACES TODAY…
¡Salud! probes the competing agendas that mark the battle for global health. The film opens in a South Africa freed from apartheid, but bound by its social and economic legacy. The challenge: provide health care for the country’s majority for the first time in history. One problem: a massive brain drain of qualified health professionals. One decision: turn to Cuba for doctors and medical educators. Explains former Director General of Health, Dr. Ayanda Ntsaluba: “Cuba shared our philosophy of health equity, prevention-oriented care and training doctors for public service.”
In Venezuela, the film takes viewers into barrios on Caracas hillsides and deep into the Amazon, where the largest contingent of Cuban health professionals now works, focusing on their role in a country undergoing dramatic change.
In Honduras, Cubans’ service in poor, indigenous communities pits the public against the country’s medical establishment, ensnaring in the dispute a government already straining under healthcare budget cuts mandated by the IMF.
By contrast, in The Gambia—one of the world’s smallest, poorest nations—we find government taking the lead to bring health care to all. Over 100 Cuban doctors join local health workers at new clinics and hospitals across the country. Comments Dr. Yankuba Kassama, The Gambia’s Minister of Health: “Our infant mortality is down, life expectancy up … We wouldn’t be able to narrate this success story without the help of the Cubans.”
TRAINING HEALERS TO PROMOTE HEALTH, NOT SIMPLY TREAT DISEASE…
Cubans can’t stay abroad forever: home-grown doctors are needed with a commitment to serve the underserved. ¡Salud! offers a rare glimpse into the Latin American Medical School (ELAM) in Havana, now the largest medical school in the world. There, 12,000 low-income students from 27 countries—including nearly 100 from the USA—receive a free medical education in exchange for pledging to return to poor communities when they graduate. Students share their dreams and concerns about a world where values learned in their training are not always rewarded.
CAN HEALTH FOR ALL BE POSSIBLE?
Through the Cuban experience, the film challenges us to reflect on the larger questions: What will it take to stop disease from decimating poor countries and reaching around the globe? How can we get enough doctors and health workers to where they are needed most? Do governments have a responsibility for the health of their citizens?
In today’s world, shouldn’t every person be born with the right to a healthy chance at life?