Cuba Boosts Doctors’ Wages in Bid to Halt Mass Exodus

HAVANA, Cuba (AFP) — Cuban cardiologist Alexey Lopez, 59, is sleeping a bit better since his salary got a bump — part of Government efforts to stop its renowned healthcare system from bleeding doctors amid the island’s worst economic crisis in decades.

But Lopez fears the wage boost will not be enough to lure back his colleagues, who are among some 40,000 Cuban medical staff that quit in 2022 and 2023 according to official figures.

He told AFP, “We were losing sleep” making ends meet before incentive bonuses were introduced last month for night and weekend shifts, seniority, and work in specialised or risky services”.

The communist island has been battling sky-high inflation and shortages since the pandemic. Plus, a tightening of US sanctions in 2021 and structural weaknesses sent the economy into a tailspin.

The bleak circumstances have pushed some five per cent of the population to flee, mostly to the United States, in the biggest wave of emigration since Fidel Castro’s revolution.

Cuba’s famed medical system has also taken a blow, with some healthcare workers leaving the country while others have ditched their white coats for better-paid work elsewhere, like in the tourism industry.

To try to halt the exodus, some 400,000 doctors, nurses and technicians have been given the incentive bonuses.

Not yet enough

The cardiologist Lopez, who works at Havana’s Calixto Garcia Hospital, saw his salary more than double from 6,500 to 17,000 Cuban pesos with the bonuses, meaning he now earns US$141 per month according to the official rate but only US$56 at the street rates which tend to govern prices.

“I know people who have quit, and these measures are not yet enough to encourage them to come back,” he told AFP.

Physiotherapist Amanda, who preferred not to give her surname, said that despite her salary being increased by a third she will “have to find other solutions to generate money” to survive.

Deputy Health Minister Luis Fernando Navarro told
AFP the measure aimed to “improve the living conditions of staff”, even though he admits “this increase does not respond to the current cost of living in Cuba”.

Navarro said the doctor shortage is mostly being felt in specialised fields.

He said that while the country has general practitioners in all of its health centres, “this is not the case for specialised care” in hospitals or “hyper-specialised care” for complex illnesses.

White-coat diplomacy

The country’s universal health-care system boasts 89 doctors for every 10,000 inhabitants, compared to 33 in France and 35 in the United States, according to World Health Organization.

The export of skilled health-care professionals in so-called “white-coat diplomacy” has been a valuable source of foreign currency, and in some years — such as 2018 — was the country’s main earner, bringing in some six billion dollars.

At home, Cuban doctors often have to buy their own stethoscopes and equipment.

With old heart monitors beeping in the background, Dr Lopez said the economic crisis is being felt “in shortages of doctors, equipment, and medicine”.

You might also like