Monday, October 29, 2007

Cuba takes harsh look at dentistry woes

Cuba takes harsh look at dentistry woes
Sun Oct 28, 2007 1:39pm EDT
By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) - It may not be fun anywhere but visiting the dentist
in Cuba is a still unhappier prospect marked by a lack of dentists,
technicians, materials and even reclining chairs, an official newspaper
reported on Sunday.

In Cuba's second internal criticism in as many weeks, a team of
reporters from the Juventud Rebelde, or Rebel Youth, fanned out to 22
dental clinics in various provinces only to discover the problems were
the norm, not exception in the free system of more than 1,000 facilities.

"The majority of the 22 clinics lacked adequate professional and
technical personnel, more than half had passed through crisis due to a
lack of water, dentist chairs, materials to fill cavities, significant
delays for dentures," according to the article headlined "Dentistry

Other problems included services provided through underground clinics --
at a price -- and patients waiting for hours in offices with little air
conditioning and few toilet facilities.

The 76-year-old Raul Castro has fostered more discussion of Cuba's
problems and encouraged the state-run media to be more critical since
taking over for his ailing older brother, Fidel Castro.

Fidel Castro, 81, has not been seen in public since undergoing a series
of abdominal surgeries and appeared frail though alert in recent videos.

Over the last six weeks, neighborhoods and work places have held
discussions on the problems they face in their daily lives, and the
deterioration of services reportedly was one of the top complaints,

Sunday's report followed by just a week a similar critical article on
health care in general and publication of a story in the Communist Party
newspaper, Granma, detailing teacher shortages and other problems in the
education system.

Cuba takes pride in its free health and education systems as the two
most important achievements of the socialist society built after the
revolution led by Fidel Castro in 1959 and official criticism is rare.

But the economic crisis that hit Cuba after the Soviet Union collapsed
in 1991 and tougher U.S. sanctions have taken a toll, National Director
of Dentistry Dr. Armando Mojaiber de la Pena was quoted as saying, with
the annual hard currency budget cut by as much as 500 percent from the
1980s to the 1990s.

Mojaiber de la Pena told the newspaper thousands of dentists and
technicians were being trained, more resources were flowing into the
system and dentists who charged for services pursued.

"Today our data compares with developed countries. Sixty-eight percent
of Cuban children up to age 5 have no cavities and 90 percent of the
population up to 18 years have all their teeth," he said.

After that, the doctor admitted, dentures may be hard to come by, with
the country currently producing just half of the annual demand.

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