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Issue #1903      February 17, 2020

Cuba working for longer and healthier lives

Ensuring that our people live not only longer, but also enjoy healthier lives is at the heart of work by institutions in Cuba, with 20.4 per cent of its population at sixty or more years of age.

In an effort to contribute to better quality of life for older adults, the Ministry of Public Health is working on training specialised personnel and incorporating elements of geriatrics into other medical specialities, to better serve an ageing population in a comprehensive manner.

In this regard, it is worth mentioning the construction of several facilities, including the first unit for the evaluation of physical performance of older adults in Cuba – and one of the few existing in Latin America and the Caribbean – opened on 1st October, 2019, taking into consideration the concept of healthy ageing, promoted by the World Health Organisation.

“This unit makes it possible to evaluate functional capacity based on variables such as walking speed and muscle strength, among other essential aspects. It also supports the diagnosis and rehabilitation of elderly persons with reduced functional capacity and promotes the development of research in key areas of ageing and the training of competent human resources,” explained Dr Lilian Rodriguez Rivera, director of the Centre for Research on Longevity, Ageing and Health.

In previous statements, Dr Iván Tápanes López, specialist in Geriatrics and Gerontology, and head of the Centre’s physical performance unit, reported that the facility has high-tech equipment which allows for better diagnoses and assistance, research and comprehensive assessment from the physical point of view, evaluating the performance of activities like walking and others requiring physical effort and strength.

Similarly, on 21st November last year, the Alzheimer’s and Cognitive Disorders Centre opened in the municipality of Habana Vieja, also the only one of its kind in Cuba, specialising in early diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s; support for caregivers, family members and professionals involved in the care of older adults who suffer from this health problem; and research that contributes to improving the care and management of these patients, as well as working with institutions associated with the BioCubaFarma state enterprise group, according to Rodriguez.

On the day of its inauguration, Dr Niurka Casado Barralesuna said that a priority of the institution will be the preparation courses, to contribute to supporting the establishment of memory clinics at the municipal level, for the identification of the most complex cases.

With services including nursing, geriatrics, social assessment, neuropsychology, and group therapy, the centre is committed to comprehensive treatment and has computerised systems.

For its part, the Centre for Longevity, Ageing and Health is developing a training program for the speciality of Gerontology and Geriatrics; a new study plan for Master’s degrees in Public Health and Ageing; and clinical nutrition and sarcopenia consultation (a term that describes the degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass and reduction of muscle strength that occurs with ageing) have begun as outpatient services.

Likewise, at the Centre for Research on Longevity, Ageing and Health, fifteen protocols for hospital care were updated and others approved for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, malnutrition, and related to the use of anaesthesia in elderly patients at high surgical risk, with the goal of implementing these nationwide.

In relation to academia and the importance of lifelong learning, the new study plan for MSc in Public Health and Ageing is in the design phase, as well as a professional development course in Gerontology and Geriatrics.

The National Program for the Care of the Elderly, with its three subsystems: community, hospital and institutional, is also in the process of being updated.

The committee and working group for the development of the speciality on the island was created at the Longevity, Ageing and Health Centre, and the program for the development of the speciality of geriatrics for the period 2020-2025 is currently in the working phase.

Good health must be an essential component of society’s response to the ageing population, added Dr Rodríguez Rivera, who recalled a thought expressed by Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro Ruz, who said, “The most humane thing a society can do is to care for the elderly.”

In addition to these centres, in response to demographic trends, Cuba has continued to prioritise care for the elderly.

With advances made this past year, a total of fifty-three services in this speciality are now available in Geriatrics, with 1,063 beds destined for these patients, fifty-three more than at the close of 2018, according to the Minister of Public Health, José Ángel Portal Miranda, in a review of 2019.

During this period, the number of beds in the 155 nursing homes increased, for a total of 12,419, as well as two new community centres for the elderly, for a total of 295.

More than 973,000 older adults joined grandparents’ circles during the year and twenty-nine mental health departments were created, bringing the total to 178 nationwide.

In Context

  • In 2019, 675 patients were admitted by the Centre for Research on Longevity, Ageing and Health, a greater number than in 2018.
  • The occupation rate was seventy-eight per cent.
  • The average stay was 7.9 days, one day less than in 2018.
  • Some 7,579 medical consultations were provided, slightly less than the number reported in 2018.
  • Some 401 surgical procedures were performed, higher than reported over the last five years and 123 more than in 2018.
  • The clean surgical wound rate was positive, with no infections reported.
  • The average preoperative stay was 1.7 days, less than in 2018.
  • The introduction of minimally invasive surgery is advancing successfully.


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