Photo: Jorge Luis González

Personalized care offered to patients is what distinguishes the La Pradera International Health Center, located in the east of Havana.

Thanks to the development of the Cuban healthcare system following the triumph of the Revolution, the institution is equipped to provide effective medical care to people from all over the world.

As such, the center’s multi-disciplinary teams of doctors and other associated medical professionals have designed various health programs in accordance with the country’s established protocols, guaranteeing scientific results and health indicators similar to those obtained by developed countries.

La Pradera was inaugurated by Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro Ruz on November 1, 1996. Quiet, order, cleanliness, and light reign across its corridors, wards, and vast grounds populated by different species of trees, and areas where medicinal shrubs and herbs used in therapies, are grown.

Director Jenry Carreño Cuador reported that La Pradera has treated 70,800 patients from 112 countries, since its founding 20 years ago. Photo: Jorge Luis González

Speaking to Granma International, La Pradera Director Dr. Jenry Carreño Cuador, stated that the institution was designed to contribute to the development of health tourism, and since it was founded 20 years ago, has provided physical rehabilitation and clinical treatments to some 70,800 patients from 112 nations, contributing to the country’s economy.

He added, “We have a modern physical medicine and rehabilitation center which develops recovery programs for patients suffering from neurological, orthopedic, cardiovascular, repertory, speech, and hearing conditions, characterized by intensive, systematic and comprehensive activities, led by teams of highly-knowledgeable and experienced professionals, the majority of whom are founders of the institution, which contributes to the consolidation of the center’s work.”

La Pradera also offers programs to treat cancer; cochlear implant recovery; hemodialysis while on vacation; weight loss; recovery for high-performance athletes; women in the peri-menopause phase or suffering from osteoporosis; diabetes; high blood-pressure; risk of copper, lead or silica poisoning; as well as plans designed specifically to improve older adults quality of life, all of which include medical check-ups, anti-stress therapies, and second opinions following diagnosis.

The center benefits from Cuban developed medicines, including a unique drug to treat advanced lung cancer; monoclonal medications for malignant brain and neck tumors; Heberprot-P to treat diabetic foot ulcers and hard-to-heal wounds; as well as a range of natural products and alternative therapies successfully used to treat Cuban patients.

As such, the facility is equipped with modern technology to carry out clinical evaluations, laboratory tests, and imaging processes. Before traveling to the country to receive treatment, all foreign patients must first send a medical report which is reviewed by several institution professionals, who then decide on a suitable treatment and develop a competitively priced, tailor-made, care plan.

The center also offers the added bonus of multi-lingual staff, who speak English, among other languages; airport transportation; and orientation to get to know the local area; processing of immigration documents in Cuba; plus tours and excursions to discover more of the country.

Photo: Jorge Luis González

Patient companions can also access a variety of medical services, request analyses or a specialized medical check-up.
The hospital has a staff of 540 workers and 152 rooms featuring all the necessary comforts for a pleasant and relaxed stay, such as air conditioning; cable television; hot and cold water; a safe; telephones to make national and international calls; and mini bar. Seventeen of these rooms are specially equipped for disabled persons, while another seven take the form of three and four room apartments, with a concierge service, cook and nurse.

The facility also includes restaurants and cafeterias, a swimming pool, sports areas, shops, post office, hairdressers and barbers, international pharmacy, tour agency, and room hire services for different events.

According to Dr. Carreño, also a General Family Medicine specialist, the results of quality surveys indicate that clients were generally satisfied with the services provided by the institution, while cancer therapies - with a variety of different kinds treatments - are the most well received programs.

In this regard, Ana Livia García López, deputy director of Medical Care at the facility, highlighted that in order to qualify for the program the prospective patient must undergo histological studies, the tumor must be located and a summary of the patient’s clinical history must be reviewed, in order for specialists to get a better understanding of the evolution of the disease. “Our group of specialists evaluate these studies and decide on a course of action for each patient, selecting the appropriate medicines based on the diagnosis. In some cases, a second medical examination is done in order to confirm the diagnosis and decide on a course of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or alternative surgical procedure. All of which are complemented by the administration of natural products to boost the patient’s immune system,” explained García López, who also holds a diploma in Palliative Care and Cancer Control.

The majority of cancer patients who arrive to the center undergo treatments which feature Cuban-developed medications to combat malignant lung tumors, known as CIMAvax-EGF® and VAXIRA®, registered on the island since 2008, and included on the country’s basic catalogue of medicines in 2012.

Both medications consist of a two-phase treatment process; the first, an initial course of five doses, followed by further applications spread over a longer period. In the first phase the patient is admitted for an average of five days during which they receive the treatment. Then the remaining doses are prepared to be administered in their home country. If the patient wishes to purchase more medicines for the remainder of the treatment process, their program and the cost are adjusted, according to García López.

“The physical design of our institution is more like a hotel than a hospital,” she added. “The patient finds themselves in a pleasant environment, accompanied 24 hours a day. They meet with the doctors who explain everything and give them all the correct information. The right kind of environment is created in which to explain how the treatment process will work, with a thorough explanation of the potential side effects depending on the physiological reaction of each individual patient.”

Dr. Marelen Carranza Aguiar agrees, noting that frequent communication, via telephone or email, is maintained between doctors and patients after they are discharged in order to continue monitoring their progress. Patients are also advised to return for a medical check-up six to 12 months after beginning treatment.

According to both Dr. García and Dr. Carranza, cancer is a chronic disease which demands certain lifestyle changes such as a healthier diet and giving up addictive substances such as cigarettes, alcohol and drugs, among others. They believe that it is essential for patients to learn to live with and manage their condition, thus highlighting the importance of family support and strict adherence to the treatment program.

The two doctors cite cases of patients who go back to work and their daily lives following treatment, noting with optimism and confidence, that cancer patients can enjoy a full and long life.

That is how Eren Olcinar, from Turkey and his 65 year old father, patient Suleyman Kefeli, see it, after they came to La Pradera for the latter to receive treatment for lung cancer. Both emphasized the kind treatment and unconditional support they received from those attending them, and described the hospital as an immense human work of love.