CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta Talks To Mediaite From Havana On Covering The Cuban Health Care System

What are your first impressions of the place?

The first impression for me as an American is, simply, being able to go and getting the visa and taking a charter plane from Miami. It’s all sort of unusual just in terms of the process of getting there—to Cuban soil in Havana. The entire plane erupts into cheers—I think it was three quarters of people so excited to be home, obviously mostly Cubans on the plane. One quarter of people were just excited we didn’t crash! They were praying as we were getting close to the runway. It’s obviously a very emotional experience for people to be able to arrive in Cuba, to come back to Cuba—everyone has their own unique story.

I was met at the airport by the foreign minister, and we ended up having a wide-ranging conversation while we waited for my bags. It took about an hour for the bags to come out. And we talked about everything, he was very candid about the current Cuban leadership to Cuban-American relationships, including doctor diplomacy—they’re big on sending out doctors everywhere. They offered to send doctors to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and the offer was not accepted. You end up talking a lot about why they invest in their health care system, how they invest in their health care system, and what that health care system has offered people all over the world. But he was very candid about what they have to offer and what their limitations are.

Today we’re going to go visit these hospitals with several different doctors in several different locations to try to get a bird’s eye view of what’s happening—with full knowledge that you can’t make an assessment of the entire health care system. That’s the goal today. Yesterday we spent a lot of time working on a documentary about Diana Nyad and her swim. And it’s funny—I asked her, “Why Cuba? Why not swim from anywhere else?” and she said, “Have you been to Cuba? You have to go and then you’ll understand.” When you sit up at the beach, or by the Malecón, you realize it’s a different, special, vibrant place.

How do you feel about the access that you’re being given to the city and the hospitals? How much do you expect to see that would be what the average Cuban experiences?

Well, that’s the real concern, and I don’t know right now. The concern is that we’re going to be given a tour of hospitals designed for us as journalists and the question is—is it reflective or representative of the health care system overall? I’m going to do my best to answer the question. There are lots of doctors who worked in Cuba but no longer work in Cuba who we are going to speak with who give us their own viewpoint on what’s happening in there. I think that it’s imperative for me as a journalist and as a doctor to come here and look myself at whatever I can—go to as many places as I can, talk to as many people as I can, patients, doctors, nurses, professionals alike. So to your question, how representative what I see today will be of Cuba, I don’t know yet. I think the whole picture is going to involve talking to people both inside and outside the country.

Are you allowed to move about freely in terms of talking to people or interviewing in public places?

Yeah… I mean, I should add that even now, we were told that as I’m speaking to you on the phone, as you may know there’s a good chance that people are listening in in some way. I’m in an office building where they have known for some time that the conversations can be heard, so I’ll preface by saying that. We know as well that while moving on the street yesterday, getting news, we are being monitored, ostensibly for safety purposes—at least that’s what we’re told, people keeping an eye on us, but I haven’t had any impediments to doing what I do, but that’s not to say I’m not being observed.

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