Here is an article that I have been working on since my trip to Cuba in January. I am embarrassed it took me so long to write. This article is based on information I gathered from an interview with an acupuncturist on January 4, 2010.
After receiving numerous massages (the things I do for work, sheesh;-)) at the hotel, the massage therapist gave me some names and addresses of people I could interview about how acupuncture is incorporated into the Cuban health care system. My articles would finally start taking shape. As luck would have it, unclear directions, missed bus stops and a dozy bus driver turned the half hour trip into a 2 hour ordeal. 2 hours of getting lost in Cuba is not exactly a horrible experience though.
My host was a nurse at the hospital that performed acupuncture. He was generous with his time.
He explained to me that he was a nurse that was licensed to practise acupuncture after completing a 2 month acupuncture course. It was an intensive course that taught 4 hours of theory and 4 hours of practical work daily for 5 days per week. The course was actually more thorough than the courses available to health care practitioners in Ontario. While our practitioners need a 100 or 200 hour course (depending on whether they are a chiropractor, RMT, or physiotherapist) to be qualified to practise acupuncture, his course was over 300 hours. There were only 20 students in his class. I was envious of this as my course had over a hundred students in it. He was trained in the theory of Tao, the 5 elements, and yin and yang. The course covered the location, indications, cautions and contra-indications for the 80 most common acupuncture points.
In Cuba, health care is free for all of its citizens. In addition to the standard western medical care, the system provides physiotherapy, massage and acupuncture for free. In fact, acupuncture is available at every hospital in Cuba and widely available of all 3 (national, provincial and municipal) levels of health care. Acupuncture is so common because it costs considerably less than pharmaceuticals or surgery. Medicine that we consider cheap costs a small fortune in Cuba due to the exchange rate and trade restrictions. Acupuncture also has considerably less side effects. With conservative, responsible needling techniques, acupuncture is completely safe. Simple acupuncture treatments are very cost effective and quick to administer helping the hospital avoid medicine shortages, surgery waiting lists and expensive procedures.
When a Cuban is experiencing musculoskeletal pain, he may visit an orthopedic doctor who will triage the case and send him on to receive x-rays, medication, physiotherapy or acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine. In this system, not only is the patient referred to acupuncture by an MD, but often in many cases, the acupuncturist and MD will work in tandem providing a combination of western and eastern care in one comprehensive treatment plan.
The hospital did not use disposable single-use needles as is the practice in western countries. Instead, they would re-use the needles after sterilizing them. After use, the nurse washes the needles in soap and water then sends them to the sterilization facilities where they are sterilized along with surgical instruments in high pressure, high temperature chambers.
Acupuncture was administered in the hospital in his office. There were beds for 4 patients as he would see 4 patients an hour for a total of 25 to 30 patients per day. All of these receiving free treatment under the direction of an MD.