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Cuba recognises alternative medicine as a medical specialism

Natural and traditional medicine, also known as alternative or complementary medicine, is growing at a fast rate in Cuba, where, since its introduction by European cultures, it has been strengthened by practices originating in Africa and Asia.


Reina Magdariaga Larduet


Since the early 1990s, alternative medicine has had a special priority status in Cuba, making possible the move in 2009 by the island’s Ministry of Public Health (Minsap) to approve 10 different complementary therapies for use in primary healthcare.

These therapies include helio-thalassotherapy (which uses sun and sea water as therapeutic agents); phytotherapy (use of medicinal plants, either whole or in parts, dried or fresh, alone or in combination); apitherapy (use of honey and other bee products), ozone therapy (introduction of ozone and ozonated substances) and naturalist nutritional guidance (diet advice).

Also included on this list are traditional Asian medicines (traditional medical practices from the continent); homeopathy (application of highly diluted substances); floral therapy (use of flower essence solutions); medical hydrotherapy (including use of water and mud containing active minerals), and traditional therapeutic bodywork (methods and techniques that use movement to therapeutic effect).

A feature of this supplementary specialism in Cuba is its basis in science and the integration of therapeutic methods and techniques in the formal healthcare protocols, which are used in practice in institutions at all three levels of state healthcare provision.

Although much still remains to be achieved, Raúl Castro, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), has been credited as the driving force behind this programme and was honoured for his role at the Bionat symposium in 2018.

All this was in evidence at the 6th Congress of the Cuban Society of Natural and Traditional Medicine, Bionat 2018, which took place earlier this month with the aim of analysing global advances within the specialism. Delegates attended the symposium from Mexico, Colombia, United States, Switzerland, India, Japan, Curacao, and other countries.

According to Cristian Morales, who is the World Health Organisation/ Panamerican Health Organisation (OMS/OPS) representative in Cuba, the discipline of complementary medicine is a tool for maintaining a tight link between communities and the healthcare services. In Cuba, where this relationship has a long history, it is difficult to imagine what not having such a guarantee would mean, although that is unfortunately the reality faced by most other countries in the region.

Thanks to the existing political goodwill on the island, the Cuban Society of Natural and Traditional Medicine currently has 1,698 active members, according to its president, Evelyn González.

The members are not only healthcare professionals, but also agronomists, botanists, physicists, biochemists and many more professionals from other disciplines. The Cuban organisation has looked to Oriental medicine as a way of improving the quality of life for the Cuban people, which was in evidence at Bionat 2018 with the presence of specialists from other countries.

Oriental methods such as Onnetsu therapy, Ayurvedic medicine and acupuncture excited the interest of the delegates gathered at the event in Havana.

Onnetsu is an extraordinary procedure that has a beneficial impact on human wellbeing, using far infrared waves. The Japanese expert Kazuko Tatsumura said, “For years, alongside other specialists, I have studied this specialism that provokes a comfortable sensation of heat without using needles. The most important thing, to guarantee its effectiveness, is to work on the spine since it controls all other parts of the body.” Tatsumura presented some case studies where patients saw improvement in their diseases, including cancer, with this treatment.

According to Carissa Etienne, director of the OPS (Panamerican Health Organisation), Cuba has long since recognised natural and traditional medicine as a medical specialism.

The Alma-Ata Declaration in 1978 was the first move to promote the importance of natural and traditional medicine for the health and wellbeing of citizens and to advocate for its inclusion in primary healthcare and for research to be carried out into its benefits. (PL)

(Translated by Elizabeth Dann – – Photos: Pixabay

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