A respected group of doctors, medical educators, health professionals and scholars, whose interest in Cuba is professional, not political, blasted John Stossel's 20/20 report last Friday.
Eleven doctor and other health professionals sent the strongly worded letter to the President of ABC News protesting, "The piece is blatanly biased, inaccurate and misleading. Both the news and medical professions are evidence-based, so we were aghast to see 20/20 report as fact things that simply are not true."
Neither Mr.Westin or Mr. Stossel would comment on the charges." (See my earlier post: What Has John Stossel Been Smoking?)
The letter continued, "We are troubled by the fact that the Stossel report appears to start with a political bias - Cuba is a poor, communist country, so it can't possibly have a successful health care system - that ignores facts that deviate from the premise.
"We are compelled to set the record straight.
"We do not intend to promote Cuba's health care system as a "model" for the U.S. to adopt, but, to its credit, this small, resource-poor nation does make health care available to all its citizens, with no price tag attached. Colin Powell acknowledged as much in his confirmation hearing as Secretary of State in 2001. The 20/20 report disparages the key lesson of the Cuban health care experience: that even the poorest society or community can guarantee its people access to health care and improve their lives by making health a serious priority. That's both a lesson and a challenge to our own country. (See my previous post: Cuba Has Better Medical Care Than the U.S.)
"About the report itself: Most astonishing is the complete absence of balance. Mr. Stossel did not seek comments from working health professionals in Cuba; instead, he cites as fact the opinions of one sector of Cuban exiles in Miami. The only organization he cites to refute the claims of "Sicko" director Michael Moore was the Central Intelligence Agency (which differed with Cuban government statistics on life expectancy by less than one year).
"Finally, the photographs shown are taken from an unabashedly biased and dubious blog run by Cuban exiles.
"More importantly, the so-called facts Mr. Stossel presents are just plain wrong.
--- Cuba's health statistics are not "made up" by government officials to portray a false, glowing picture of public health. In fact, the country admits that maternal deaths are still a problem, as are increased threats from diabetes, obesity and rising rates of several cancers. The 20/20 piece dismisses the validity of statistics from the United Nations and the World Health Organization because they come from Cuban health officials, but Mr. Stossel fails to mention that this is how UN statistics are gathered from all countries. Nor does he bother to point out that other sources such as the Pan American Health Organization, which maintain permanent offices in Havana, and regularly send evaluation teams to Cuba, have issued positive reports after firsthand assessments from making their own trips to provinces across the country.
Many of us have also witnessed how Cuban health statistics are put together, and have direct knowledge of the Ministry of Public Health's Statistics Department and the Health Tendencies Analysis Unit, which teamed up with PAHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during a neuropathy epidemic in Cuba some years ago.
--- Cuba's economic problems during the 1990s resulted in the physical deterioration of many of its hospitals. However, 52 of these hospitals are now undergoing needed repairs and remodeling. Although Mr. Moore and his 9/11 responders did go to one of the refurbished facilities, this hospital serves 156,000 people living in one of Havana's most overcrowded neighborhoods. It is not a hospital reserved for government elites or foreigners.
--- The claim that Cuban women are commonly subjected to forced abortions is patently false. By law, abortion in Cuba is accessible and free. But for years, abortion rates have been dropping, not climbing. When congenital malformations occur during pregnancy, women are informed of their options and permitted to make a personal decision, as they are in many other countries. In fact, entire facilities such as the Children's Heart Center in Havana and a national network of special schools are dedicated to children who are born with congenital problems.
"When it comes to health care, Cuba manages to do a lot with a little, scoring comparably with the United States on many health indicators at a fraction of the cost. A Gallup Poll conducted last year revealed that 96 percent of Cuban citizens said they had regular access to health care, no matter who they were or what their income.
"We urge ABC NEWS to correct the false statements and impressions presented in Mr. Stossel's report."
Peter G. Bourne, MD, MA - Chair, MEDICC Board of Directors www.medicc.org - Visiting Scholar at Green College, Oxford University.
Alfred W. Brann Jr., MD - Professor of Pediatrics, Emory University School of Medicine
Harry E. Douglas III, DPA (Retired) - former Executive Vice President and former Interim President, Charles Drew University of Medicine & Science. Chair, Board of Regents, Southern California University of Health Sciences
Dabney Evans, MPH, CHES - Department of Global Health, Emory University
Rollins School of Public Health
Jean Handy, PhD - Associate Director of Microbiology and Immunology, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Chapel Hill
C. William Keck, MD, MPH, FACPM - Professor and Associate Dean, Northwestern Ohio Universities College of Medicine (NEOUCOM), past president - American Public Health Association
Albert S. Kuperman, PhD - Associate Dean for Educational Affairs, Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, USA
F. Javier Nieto, MD, PhD - Professor and Chair, Department of Population Health Sciences,
University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health
Gail A. Reed, MS - International Director, MEDICC
Patricia Rodney, RN, MPH, PhD - Director MPH Program & Associate Professor
Morehouse School of Medicine Master of Public Health Program
Ronald K. St. John, MD, MPH - CEO & President, Global Health News Network Corporation