Tourism has been a major part of the Cuban economy since the early 1990s. This industry has evolved significantly over the past few decades and the country is adapting to these changes to ensure continued growth. There are more than 3.5 million tourist arrivals annually with most coming from Canada, Europe, and South America. Many come to the island to bask in the sun and swim at the beaches. Recently, more people have been coming to Cuba for medical tourism. Spa and wellness tourism are also turning out to be strong income generators for the economy.
The national government has a deep appreciation for health in that it is a protected right for its citizens. It has invested in health care and developed several programs to take care of the people. There is a good ratio between the number of doctors and people within communities. Hospitals are well-staffed and there is a commitment in Cuban medicine to the prevention of disease rather than the cure. Limited resources due to the American embargo forced doctors and researchers to search for alternative treatments to many illnesses. Other countries which enjoy positive relations with Cuba already partner with the Island, importing its medicines. Patients from around the world fly in to Cuba in search of treatment or medicine.
Global medical tourism has grown into a $40 million dollar industry and the market is predicted to reach $32.5 billion U.S. by 2019.Source While medical tourism is thriving in some parts of the world, it is declining in elsewhere. On the horizon, once the embargo is lifted, the full potential of the Cuban medical tourism industry will quickly be witnessed. Cuba should be developing its facilities now to serve this market.
A few factors make Cuba an obvious choice as a medical tourism destination for Americans. It’s close proximity to the U.S., its advanced system of healthcare and medical research, its highly qualified medical staff and the price factor. Americans are already traveling to Cuba understandably out of desperation not willing to wait for drugs such as CimaVax-EGF and Heberprot-P to pass FDA evaluation. Other reasons for American travel in search of medical services is the lower cost of testing, surgical procedures and cosmetic surgery.
There are many reasons why international patients head to Cuba for health treatments. One of them is the relatively low cost of services and the removal of wait times. According to estimates, Americans can save approximately 60% by opting for treatment in Cuba instead of at home. This alone can justify the trip and the costs associated with it. Some medical procedures cost tens of thousands of dollars in the U.S. The same treatments will cost much less in Cuba. The same is true for wellness and spa facilities.
Spa facilities are also attracting a lot of interest for tourists in search of rejuvenation in an exotic locale. Cuba is blessed with plenty of natural mineral springs and health spas in scenic locations. Health spas offering natural spring water treatments can be found places like San Diego de Los Baños in Pinar del Río, Acuavida Spa & Talaso in Cayo Coco, the spa of Kurhotel Escambray in the Escambray mountains, or the thermal waters of the Elguea Spa in Villa Clara.
The Cuban health care system has been highly commended by the Kaiser Family Foundation, James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, Wayne Smith, former head of the U.S. interests section in Havana and former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), also speaks highly of the Cuban health care system saying “Cuba is the only country that has a health care system closely linked to research and development. This is the way to go, because human health can only improve through innovation.” She also commended Cuba’s leadership for the “efforts of the country’s leadership for having made health an essential pillar of development.”