Cuba Formally Recognizes 10 Alternative Practices

In mid-May 2015 the director health for Cuba, Roberto Morales, MD, granted special status for 10 alternative therapies according to this article in Fox News Latino. The therapies include acupuncture, homeopathy, Bach flower remedies, botanicals, bee therapy, ozone therapy, yoga therapy, natural diets, and hydrotherapy. The resolution specifically speaks to their use with conventional practices and across the range of health and medicine from diagnostics to prevention to treatment. The perspective indicated further that there is openness to include other natural therapies when they “complete scientific, academic and technical” processes. Morales statement indicated that quality practitioners are available to provide these services.

The article notes that these alternatives have been available for many years in Cuba. Although without official recognition, they have formed part of care in clinics and hospitals. The required products are already typically available in Cuban pharmacies.

Comment:  For many of us who have been aware of the reputation of Cuba as having the most integrated of systems in the Western hemisphere, this news arrives as a surprise. For years individuals interested in integrative care have found their routes to Cuba specifically to learn about their integrated system. The 2006 PubMed-available article Natural and traditional medicine in Cuba: lessons for U.S. medical education was co-authored by Ben Kligler, MD, MPH, a former chair of the North American Academic Consortium for Integrative Medicine and Health, the 61 medical school integrative medicine group. A 1999 Washington Post piece was With Drugs Scarce, Cuba Tries Natural Cures. That the practices were not formally recognized was typically not the take-home message.

The timing is fascinating: alternative practices have gained formal recognition in Cuba within weeks of the U.S. formally removing the island nation from the U.S.’ list of state-sponsored terrorists. There is no direct relationship between these actions, or course. But as a veteran of the era in the 1980s in the United States in which every therapy on Cuba’s list was routinely denigrated as “quackery” and “fraud” – thus a form of medical terrorism, if you well – I couldn’t not note the temporal connection between the two actions. If there was any connection whatsoever to the timing of normalization of Cuba-US relations, it was not mentioned. Good for the prior legitimization to be formalized. Now the question is: will this relatively well-integrated system devolve toward the less integrated US norm as all of the pressures of capitalist medicine begin to have more access to the island, its population and its political figures?

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