The following is based on interviews on January 6, 2009 with some of the staff at the Policlinico Guanabo, a state-funded physiotherapy clinic in Guanabo, a town 15km east of Havana. Treatment at the clinic, as in all Cuban health care facilities, is free of charge to Cubans.
After visiting the acupuncture ward at a Cuban hospital a few days earlier, I was curious how health care was provided in other environments. At the community level, the Policlinico Guanabo provides for all the health care needs of the town of Guanabo and its environs. There is a full range of medical personnel including a physiotherapy ward.
The physiotherapist was named Reinier. He was 27 years old and licensed in physiotherapy after completion of a 5 year program. He was also licensed in acupuncture after taking a specialization course. He headed the department and worked primarily with electronic therapeutic devices such as laser, magnetic gamma, ultra sound, Hivamat, as well as acupuncture. The machines were all very new, in good condition and surprisingly sleek and modern, in contrast to the clinic’s rustic appearance.
Servilio was licensed in “cultura fisica” which literally translates to “physical culture”. I imagine that it means something similar to kinesiology. He is the graduate of a 3 year program with a specialization in rehabilitation. While Reinier works primarily with electronic therapeutic devices, Servilio does almost all of his work manually. He was 54 years old with 25 years of experience. He particularly enjoys working with children and was extremely proud to say that in his career, he has helped more than 15 handicapped children learn to walk. This was inspirational, but even more surprising was that the process only took a year on average. He has also helped 30 handicapped adults learn to walk. I loved how content he was in telling me this. How wonderful it must be to say that the thing they love most of their work or the thing that they are most proud of is that they helped 50 handicapped people learn to walk.
Servilio has a standard education in cultura fisica, but he has taken courses, lectures and workshops in a wide variety of modalities. He has branched out his approach into quite a few alternative healing modalities which he regularly incorporates into his treatments. His treatments can contain any combination of massage, tai chi, reflexology, qi gong, acupressure, shiatsu, reiki, chakra healing, ear acupuncture, yoga, william technique, pilates and su jo.
In Canada these therapies are not uncommon, but you would almost never find them in a state run physiotherapy clinic. You would also never find these courses, workshops or treatments offered free of charge. These alternative therapies are strictly operated on a for profit basis outside of Canada’s government run medical system. We have access to natural healing but only if we can afford $20 a group session or $100 for a treatment. Unfortunately, this usually means that much of the market for alternative therapy in Canada choose it only after the western medical system fails them. There is a strong growing movement of people that are adopting alternative health care as a personal preference, but wouldn’t it be grand if we didn’t have to make a choice? What if the Cuban system could be adopted to other western countries and we received prescriptions for yoga, acupuncture, massage or Aspirin from our family doctor?