Juan Manuel Márquez Pediatric Hospital, Marianao. Photo: Liborio Noval

Faith and conviction became one back then... and perhaps that is why these lines are based on a declaration that would seal the path of the nation. The privilege of the few had to become, once and for all, the right of many, of everyone. Fidel would unhesitatingly state as such during his trial at the Palace of Justice in Santiago de Cuba, as the accused became the accuser, providing an avalanche of masterly arguments, photographs of a broken Cuba. He announced – and as such committed his life and thought – the five revolutionary laws that would have been proclaimed immediately after taking the Moncada Garrison, and that he remembered well.

He cited the problem of the people's health as one of the appalling realities that needed to be tackled from the root. With those words Fidel outlined what the development of free, universal, accessible public health care, and the promotion of biomedical research to benefit the health of all the people, would be like. Science and conscience hand in hand, which six decades later reveal an unprecedented achievement, carefully dreamed, devised, and put into practice, whose seed was planted by Fidel.

Of that shameful health situation, characterized by tetanus, diphtheria, measles, whooping cough, polio, tuberculosis and other diseases, in which children were devoured by parasites and many died of gastroenteritis and respiratory diseases as the leading causes of death, there remains no trace in revolutionary Cuba.

Today, almost half a million workers make up the Cuban public health sector and the island’s health indicators, diametrically opposed to those Fidel denounced back then, demonstrate the extent of efforts in this field. Health is a right enshrined in the Cuban Constitution: “Everyone has the right to health protection and care. The State guarantees this right.”

“Taking care of the people's health, preventing their suffering and curing their diseases is, primarily, a task of a social and moral nature; but it also makes economic sense, as it is the men and women of the nation who create value, and a hard-working, healthy and strong population is essential for development,” Fidel expressed at the Second Congress of the Association of Third World Economists in April, 1981.

In constant transformation, the Cuban National Health System has been perfected based on the needs of the people, and continues on this path, based on the key concepts of preventive medicine, and universal access to medical education.

“A comprehensive health program can not be measured only by the number of lives saved, but by the millions of people who feel, in the first place, a sense of safety [...],” the Comandante stated in November 1998, during the closing session of the 12th National Science and Technology Forum.

His vision went beyond achieving health care provision for every citizen of this island, and the concept of solidarity and the internationalist tradition of Cuban public health bear testament to this. Algeria in 1960 would mark the beginning of an admirable path which would see Cuban doctors offer their services in over 65 countries worldwide.

“[...] Our mission is to create a doctrine regarding human health, to set an example of what can be done in this field, which is obviously the most crucial to anyone in the world [...],” Fidel told students graduating from the Havana Higher Institute of Medical Sciences on August 9, 1999.

A year later, he would give birth to “the world's most advanced medical school,” as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon would describe the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM). The devastating experience of the aftermath of hurricanes George and Mitch in Central America would be the starting point to begin training health professionals from these countries in Cuba, in addition to sending Cuban medical teams to the affected areas.

On August 21, 2005, together with Comandante Hugo Chávez, Fidel would make the “Sandino Commitment”, a name which history would assign to the agreement announced during a joint live broadcast by the two leaders in which they explained that the Operation Miracle program would be extended to Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa, to treat millions of people over a period of ten years. This was another example of his commitment to the health of all peoples.

Like anything, Cuban health care can be improved, but as Fidel himself has expressed, “We have not conquered all justice, but we have to save the justice conquered.”

Taking a look around, of this we can be certain…