November 26, 2016 – Fidel Castro is gone, but his name still arouses passions over 60 years after his first appearance on the world political stage as a young rebel leader. In the debate swirling around his legacy, of two things there can be no doubt: while he was Cuban, he was also bigger than Cuba, the last of the larger-than-life giants of 20th century leadership.
And just as important, he was the driving force and main architect of universal health care in Cuba, a public health system responsible for making Cubans some of the healthiest people in the world. Built upon the notion of the right to health, he first outlined this vision in the program of the movement he led to victory on January 1, 1959.
As a result of his leadership, the new government dedicated itself first to health and education for all. In 1960-61, newly graduated doctors, backpacks in hand, headed for the countryside and mountains to take health care to people there for the first time, which coincided with a massive Literacy Campaign that taught some 700,000 Cubans to read and write.
Over the years, President Castro took an abiding interest in health and was at the forefront of promoting advances in health care, research and medical education: establishing rural hospitals and a national network of hundreds of community-based clinics, making prevention a cornerstone of training and service; generating extraordinary investments in biotechnology to develop novel vaccines and cancer therapies, and specialized services for Cuban newborns with heart disease. Finally, he considered the most significant “revolution within the revolution” to be the creation in the 1980s of the family doctor-and-nurse program, posting their offices on every block and farmland in Cuba.