a Right to Live
by Tom Whitney
The Cuban Ministry of Health recently announced Cuba’s best-ever infant
mortality rate (IMR). In 2004, out of every 1000 babies born, only 5.8 died
during their first year of life.
Cubans take a broader view of human rights than do many U.S. opinion shapers.
The Revolution took Jefferson’s words to heart about "certain inalienable
rights.., life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." But numbers may be
more persuasive than words in nailing down the case that in Cuba life itself
is a human right.
Cuba’s 2004 IMR was second in the Western Hemisphere only to Canada’s rate
of five deaths per 1000 babies. The United States came in at seven deaths
per 1000. The average rate for all other Western Hemisphere nations, according
to UNESCO, was 36 per 1000 babies. Public health analysts suggest that the
latter figures may represent falsely low rates. Infants are more likely to
die in rural areas than in cities, and records there may be non-existent.
Denmark, Iceland, Japan, Norway, Singapore, and Sweden all achieved rates
of under 4 deaths per 1000. Cuba joins an elite group of 36 other countries
with favorable IMR’s. All but Cuba, however, are wealthy, industrialized nations.
The IMR for African American babies added up to 13.6, almost double the
overall U.S. rate. The Cuban population mix, of course, includes 50 to 65
% whose ancestry is African.
Health care, Cuban style, has to do with the preservation of life, for all
people. Cuba’s IMR in 1958, the last year before the Revolution, was 65 deaths
per 1000 babies. Had that rate prevailed in 2004 when 127,062 babies were
born in Cuba, 8255 babies would have died. Instead, only 748 babies died -
almost all of them from lethal congenital defects and adverse conditions affecting
babies in their mothers’ uterus.
In the United States around 4 million babies are born every year. If by
some magic Cuba could have shared its IMR with its neighbor to the north,
then 4800 babies who died in the United States would have survived. Had the
Cuban rate prevailed in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2004, 30 babies
taken from each contingent of 1000 live births would have lived, not died.
The number of preventable infant deaths in Haiti is astronomical.
The World Health Organization and the Pan-American Health Organization have
repeatedly validated Cuba’s perennially low IMR. And more to the point: Cuba
has worked for 45 years to construct an environment conducive to healthy children.
The setting is of social justice. Parents in Cuba are educated, have jobs,
food, and decent housing. They have confidence and hope. Families know about
preventative health care, caring for sick babies at home - especially diarrhea
- and the virtue of seeking help early from their family doctor or polyclinic.
And care, both preventative and curative, is readily available. Health promotion
has succeeded in Cuba because of people’s unified purpose and their readiness
to organize for the common good. Intensive care units and specialty care for
uncommon diseases contribute relatively little to Cuba’s child health achievements.
The United States spends 13.8 % of its gross national product on health
care. Cuba spends only 6.8% of its national outlay on health care, yet babies
there survive and thrive. Cuba of course has a special approach to money.
Health care is for health and life. Cuba leaves profit and inflated salaries
out of the equation, and the rest of the poor world is watching. "The U.S.
government is afraid to lift its blockade because it fears Cuba’s example,"
says Foreign Minister Perez Roque, speaking before the UN General Assembly
in October. "It knows that we would demonstrate even more the possibilities
of Cuban socialism, the potential not yet fully laid out in a country with
no discrimination of any kind, with social justice and human rights for all
A mere number, eloquent beyond words, makes the case. Social justice and
human rights are matters of life and death - pure and simple.