Monday, November 17, 2003

Cuba Blends Western Medicine with Natural Therapies to Meet Changing Economic Realities

(Nov. 15) HAVANA - Cuba entered a new era referred to as the “Special Period” with everyone tightening their belts and making do without ordinary supplies. There was a dire shortage of drugs, hospital supplies and equipment to serve this island nation of 11 million people. Consequently, the government began encouraging the development and wider use of herbal medicines and homeopathic remedies, as well as acupuncture, yoga and other Asian therapies. And the effort has paid off in readily observable terms:

* Today each of Cuba’s 169 municipalities has a state-run clinic that offers traditional and natural medical services.

* Medical schools here offer specialty training in traditional and natural medicine.

* Many pharmacies, their shelves bare of modern drugs and other medical supplies, are stocked with herbal and homeopathic remedies.

* Acupuncture, brought here by Chinese immigrants, where it merged with traditions conserved by African slaves and their descendants, is routinely used for more than 20 kinds of surgeries instead of general anesthesia.

Officially, Cuban health ministers say that employment of traditional and natural medicine “does not constitute an alternative or complementary therapeutic method to solve problems of an economic nature.” Instead, they maintain, “TNM is a discipline within medical sciences that requires profound study and continued practice in the country, even after current shortages (of medications) are resolved.”

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