Infectious Disease and Public Health Infrastructure in Cuba

Primary Analyst: Riley Garno

Team Leader: Emily Dolan

            Tourism rates are rising globally leading to an increased transmission of infectious disease across borders. In addition to tropical diseases, lack of proper public infrastructure for water, waste control, and inadequate resources for vector control through robust health systems are contributing factors toward disease for residents and tourists of countries located around the equator. The top reasons for tourists to change their travel destinations to alternative destinations include war and political instability, followed closely by fears of disease and health concerns. Since tourists are highly mobile consumers who can easily change their travel plans, these risk factors are a top priority for those who wish to draw tourists to their destinations, and they are significant risk factors for losing business

            The vast majority of those who travel to Cuba are of Canadian origin. In 2010 alone, nearly one million Canadians that sought a vacation on the Caribbean Island. The government of Canada has highlighted a number of key health risks for Canadian travellers travelling to Cuba, including the Zika Virus which is spread through infected mosquitoes biting humans. Affecting both men and women, the Zika Virus can be sexually transmitted and affects the reproductive process, often resulting in developmental abnormalities and birth defects in the fetus. This disease is of special concern for pregnant women, or men and women who are sexually active and are trying to conceive a child.

            In addition to Zika Virus, there are risks for food and water borne illnesses. Common illness in the Caribbean include cholera, hepatitis A, schistosomiasis, and typhoid. The risks of developing diarrheal-related illness is increased in areas which do not have adequate sanitation infrastructure. Additionally, vacationers are warned of insect related infectious disease such as Chikungunya, dengue fever, West Nile Virus, and malaria. Finally, travellers are warned of contact with local animals which might cause zoonotic infection and travellers are encouraged to be on guard for common diseases spread by humans in crowded spaces and through sexual intercourse.

Cuban medical assistance may not be adequate for foreign visitors because the infrastructure for visitors in scarce and hospital charges for non-residents can be very high. There are also shortages in the types of medications and procedures available compared to the variety available in the Global North. Finally, foreign visitors who seek medical attention will often be asked to pay by credit cards not issues by American companies, so those visiting must ensure they have a credit card issued outside of the United States if they wish to receive medical treatment.  

            Health risks are a significant deciding factor for a traveller’s choice of destination, meaning that these issues are pressing matters for those involved in Cuba’s tourism industry. It is therefore very important that these health risks be monitored and addressed to ensure the success of the tourism industry in Cuba.