Sanitary standards in Cuba are generally good. As long as you take appropriate precautions and use common sense, you’re not likely to incur a serious illness or disease. Cuba’s much-vaunted public health system faces severe shortages of medicines and equipment; with few exceptions, facilities and standards are not up to those of North America or northern Europe.
Local pharmacies are meagerly stocked and medicines are hard to find away from key tourist spots. Turnos regulares pharmacies are open 8 a.m.–5 p.m.; turnos permanentes—also known as pilotos—are open 24 hours.
In 2009, Cuba became paranoid about swine flu (H1N1 virus), and several foreigners report having been forcibly hospitalized (for up to four days!) for tests after showing flu-like symptoms.
Facilities for Foreigners
Foreigners receive special treatment through Servimed (tel. 07/204-4811, www.servimedcuba.com), a division of Cubanacán Turismo y Salud (Av. 43 #1418, esq. 18, Miramar, Havana, tel. 07/204-4811, www.cubanacan.cu), which promotes health tourism, from “stress breaks” to advanced treatments such as eye, open-heart, and plastic surgery—even breast implants are available.
Most major cities and resort destinations have 24-hour international clinics (clínicas internacionales) staffed by English-speaking doctors and nurses, plus foreigners-only international pharmacies (farmacias internacionales) stocked with Western pharmaceuticals. Larger tourist hotels also have nurses on duty and doctors on call, and some have pharmacies. Óptica Miramar (7ma Av., e/ 24 y 26, Miramar, tel. 07/204-2269, direccion [at] opticam [dot] cha [dot] cyt [dot] cu) provides optician services and sells contact lenses and eyeglasses. It has outlets nationwide. See www.servimedcuba.com/es/directorio.php for a complete list of Servimed facilities.
Pay in CUC or by credit card (unless issued on a U.S. bank). Get a receipt with which to make an insurance claim once you return home. You can call your insurance company in advance, however, of medical treatment. If approved, the company can pay direct to Asistur (Prado #208, Havana, tel. 07/866-4499, www.asistur.cu), which then pays the Cuban clinic.
A Canadian company, Choice Medical Services (tel. 866/672-6284, www.choicemedicalservices.com), assists North Americans with receiving low-cost health care in Cuba, typically at 80 percent saving over costs in the United States. However, U.S. citizens should note that even if visiting Cuba legally, payment for “nonemergency medical services” is prohibited.
Uncle Sam has deemed that even U.S. emergency evacuation services cannot fly to Cuba to evacuate U.S. citizens without a license from the Treasury Department. The rules keep changing, so it’s worth checking the latest situation with such companies as Traveler’s Emergency Network (tel. 800/275-4836, www.tenweb.com) and International SOS Assistance (tel. 215/942-8000, www.internationalsos.com), which provide worldwide ground and air evacuation.
In Cuba, insurance packages sold by Aseguradora del Turismo La Isla (Calle 14 #301, esq. 3ra Av., Miramar, tel. 07/204-7490, fax 07/204-7494, www.cuba.cu/laisla) include US$5,000 coverage for medical evacuation.
Swiss-based Assist-Card (tel. 305/381-9959 or 800/874-2223 in the U.S., www.assist-card.com, tel. 07/867-1315 in Cuba) provides emergency services in Cuba, even for U.S. citizens, including emergency evacuation. It works in conjunction with Asistur (Prado #212, e/ Trocadero y Colón, Habana Vieja, tel. 07/866-4499 or 07/866-8527, www.asistur.cu, Mon.–Fri. 9 a.m.–5 p.m.).
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Cuba, 5th Edition