First Impressions of Havana and Maternal Health Care

By Alex Gunn, Public Health in Cuba, Summer 2011

Close your eyes. Imagine a city on an island that blends 18th century architecture with early 20th century buildings and postmodern buildings from the last 50 years. Now, imagine if these magnificent buildings have not been rebuilt or repaired in 40 years; just left to break down at the will of nature. This is Havana. In the streets are a blend of imported cars from Asia, American cars from before 1959, along with a few horse and buggies. This unique blend of architecture style and modes of transportation gives Havana a very interesting atmosphere. Below is a picture of the hotel we are staying in (temporarily), Hotel Presidente. It was built in the 1920s and has over 400 works of art.

We have been here for a little over a week and every minute has been full of life. From visiting a Cigar Factory to spending half a day in Parque Lenin, a 670 park dedicated to Lenin. The people we have met have been quite welcoming; as interested in us as we are in them. We started our classes this week at the Casa de las Americas and Instituto Pedro Kouri (IPK), a medical school that specializes in tropical diseases. I’m really excited about the access to doctors, medical students, and patients. This is important because we were asked to come up with a research project for our time here. Some students are focusing on psychology of public health, while others want to study  the medical education system. I, along with two other students, am examining maternal health care in Cuba. In particular, why the infant mortality rate in Cuba is so low? According to statistics put out by the Cuban government and UNICEF, the national infant mortality rate is 4.5 babies out of 1000. This sounds incredible, but there are many reasons behind that number including the abortion rate in Cuba is 60.2%. I am really looking forward to delving into this topic and examining the political and cultural reasons behind this system.