With no solution in sight regarding infant mortalities, residents of Chicago's South Side, home to numerous predominantly Black neighborhoods, have resorted to mentors from the Cuban Ministry of Public Health for help.
Why? The small socialist island, though it has endured a half-century economic blockade imposed by the United States, has an infant mortality rate (4.3 per 1,000 people) lower than its neighbor to the north (5.7 per 1,000 people), according to the World Health Organization.
In fact, Cuba's infant mortality rate is significantly lower than some of the poorest parts of the United States. A good example is the neighborhood of Englewood. With an infant mortality rate of 14.5 babies per 1,000, its statistics mirrors that of war-torn Syria.
“Cuba is not a rich country,” said Dr. Jose Armando Arronte-Villamarin, one of the Cuban doctors helping the people of Chicago's South Side. “(Therefore) we have to develop the human resources, at the primary health care level.”
Even health workers at the prestigious University of Illinois at Chicago are adopting Cuban health surveys during home visits in Englewood.
“Sometimes the answers are in the most unexpected places,” Tossas-Milligan said, adding that “sometimes it’s hard for us to face the reality that, as much as we spend, we have somehow not been successful at keeping our babies alive.”
A health partnership signed between the University of Illinois Cancer Center and the Cuban Ministry of Public Health has teamed up three Cuban doctors and a nurse with their U.S. counterparts during home visits to 50 women of reproductive age in Englewood, according to Kaiser Health News.
In exchange for a US$50 stipend, the women respond to a questionnaire that includes questions such as: “In the last 12 months, have you had any problems with any bug infestations, rodents or mold?” or “Have you ever had teeth removed or crowned because of a cavity?”
The questions cover a range of topics, including emotional well-being to condition of one's residence.
Kathy Tossas-Milligan, an epidemiologist working on the program, said the women who are classified as being at a higher risk for miscarriage will be recommended for additional home visits. She said the idea is to attend to women's medical issues at home and at an early stage in order to prevent the high cost of hospital bills.
She went on to state that “what we are hoping to discover is issues in Englewood that truly impact health, that are not being collected” and that “doctors cannot see when they come and see (a) woman, and prescribe her one pill.”
In 2017, Cuba’s infant mortality rate was 4.1 per 1,000 live births, the lowest in the history of the Caribbean socialist country.
"This is a milestone that reflects the integration of the entire health care system in the country, which is about lives saved, quality of life, happiness and satisfaction for our people," said the Minister of Public Health, Roberto Morales.
Apart from sending their medical expertise to the United States, Cuba's Latin American School of Medicine, popularly known as ELAM, has trained young students from poor communities, mainly in Latin America and Caribbean countries, to become doctors free of charge. The school, which was founded in 1999, even accepts students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds in the United States, as well as several African nations.