HAVANA Michael Moore's new documentary film "SiCKO" has given Cuba's free health system its best publicity since Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution, a Cuban doctor who hosted the filmmaker's visit said on Monday.
Moore took eight Americans sickened after volunteering for the September 11, 2001, rescue efforts for free treatment in Cuba in March in order to extol the Communist state's universal care in his film, which attacks the U.S. health system for being driven by profits and leaving millions uninsured.
"SiCKO" has stirred heated debate in the United States since opening in June due to its scathing indictment of the U.S. pharmaceutical and medical insurance industries. Moore argues that a poor country like Cuba is doing a better job than the United States at looking after its citizens' health.
"Michael Moore spurred more interest in our health system than the 40-odd years we have spent providing health to our people," Dr. Jaime Davis, who provided free check-ups and treatment to Moore's group, told Reuters.
During their 10-day visit, the U.S. patients received treatment for respiratory problems caused by inhaling dust in the ruins of the World Trade Center. Some were treated for dental and digestive problems, Davis said.
Moore himself had his blood pressure taken.
Stopping at a pharmacy, one member of the group bought a refill for his inhaler at the highly subsidized price of one Cuban peso, equivalent to 5 U.S. cents.
"Give me a thousand," Moore joked to the attendant, saying the same medication cost $50 in the United States, Davis said.
Davis, a surgeon now working for the Health Ministry's international affairs office, said Moore's group left with "improved health," but gave no details.
Free and universal health care and education are considered the major achievements of the socialist system built by Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Cuban hospitals are often crumbling and badly lit, and lack equipment and medicines. But the health system, using the resources of a developing country. has produced results on par with rich nations'.
The number of children dying before their fifth birthday is seven per 1,000 live births in Cuba, versus eight per 1,000 in the United States, according to the World Health Organization.
"Moore is showing the reality of the Cuban health system and that a very positive message for us," Davis said.