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Because all of these elements contribute to health and healing, this unique model provides a framework for effective intervention on many levels, including care for the whole person, our communities, and our environment. Green healthcare starts when the health professional takes steps to work in an environment that supports his or her own health as well as that of patients and local communities. Practicing medicine in a sustainable way begins with a focus on prevention and wellness. Considering the environmental consequences of medical treatments takes more commitment, but can easily be initiated through simple office programs such as safe medicine disposal program like a Medication Take-Back Program.

For more information on safe medicine disposal, see IMCJ 6.

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Health providers of the 21st century must also take an interest in environmental issues and in advocating for environmental health, best done by connecting with local civic and environmental leaders. The first step for all of us, however, is to reconnect and recommit to the passion that first brought us to healing, and to connect that impulse to the joy we take in a healthy, clean, natural world. From this sense of joy and inspiration, medical professionals can truly heal more broadly and deeply, and, as well, find the strength to lead our communities to a brighter future for our children and grandchildren.

Maybe I should go to Cira Garcia, the hospital for foreign visitors, and get antibiotics.

But I don't like antibiotics, and I want to test the herbal treatment. Since I'm feeling better, I decide to head off in a taxi -- instead of on my bike this time -- to an interview Tracey has set up for me with a young doctor at a newly opened government clinic in the Havana suburb of Miramar. When I arrive, Orlando Sanchez, just two years out of University of Havana medical school, is placing tiny acupuncture seeds in the ear of a middle-aged woman. He's practicing the ancient art of auriculotherapy.

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His patient is being treated for post-menopausal problems, he says. On the opposite wall hangs a symbol of the tao, which is not only an unself-conscious declaration of his faith in traditional Chinese medicine, but also a symbol of the remarkable degree turn Cuba has taken back to centuries-old healing techniques. Sanchez says his parents were part of Cuba's pre-revolutionary botanical culture. He recalls that his career interest in medicine was ignited during his Cuban army service, when he was befriended by a medical school dropout who taught him tai chi and Qigong traditional Chinese practices that aim to harmonize body energy.

He doesn't see a conflict between natural and conventional medicine: "We are trying to develop some sort of synthesis," he says, "the best of natural and conventional medicines -- to heal without damaging the patient. Without any prompting from me he notes the problem with my leg, and I leave the clinic impressed with the Cuban health-care system's openness to experimentation and innovation.

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Patients treated with natural medicine acupuncture, homeopathy, herbal remedies have more than doubled since to about 3,, in , according to Leoncio Padron, director of traditional and natural medicine for the Ministry of Public Health. Tough economic times forced the government to slash health-care expenditures to about half of what it devoted back in However, Cuba has more doctors now than in Even if the embargo abruptly ended, he adds, Cuba would continue paying attention to natural medicine in the interests of developing "medical science.

The revolution in Cuban health care has not gone unnoticed by Cuba's neighbors to the North. Marta Perez, director of natural and traditional medicine for the Ministry of Public Health in Havana Province, told a dozen visiting health professionals from the United States last fall that the Cuban government promotes natural medicine because it's sustainable and cost-effective.

In the government set up organizational responsibility within the ministry for natural medicine, and a resolution was introduced that sanctioned herbal medicines and infusions made from plants, acupuncture and related techniques, as well as homeopathy and thermotherapy sulfur baths and mineral mud baths. Adding all such treatments to a system that was completely allopathic conventional hasn't been easy, Perez said. The practice of laying on of hands might work, she said, "but its scientific basis can't be measured and it can't be standardized.

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Says an official of the Ministry of Public Health: "For Cuba's common illnesses -- skin problems, fungal infections, parasites and especially bronchial diseases -- green medicine usually works at least as well as the drugs, without the side effects. Rita Beretervide, a doctor in her mids, is a specialist in family medicine in the Havana suburb of Santos Suarez. A graduate of the University of Havana, she was trained in the old school before natural medicine started making a comeback. But last year she joined dozens of other doctors attending weekly neighborhood clinics on natural medicine.

She now says she's comfortable prescribing herbal medicines and believes in their effectiveness. A few blocks away customers gather at the counter of an open-air pharmacy carved out of the ground floor of a crumbling apartment building.

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A large sign lists the most popular herbal remedies. Pharmacists there report that the most common ailment among people over 50 in the neighborhood is hypertension, which can be treated with an herbal medicine derived from sugar cane, called cana santa, which costs the equivalent of 4 cents. Not everybody, of course, is singing the praises of medicine verde. A Cuban women whose skin problems didn't respond to herbal treatment said, "Frankly, I don't believe in green medicine.

If it really worked, the doctors in the United States and other rich countries would be using it too. We only use it here because there's nothing else.

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  4. But natural medicine has gained a strong foothold in Cuba, propelled by economic necessity, unopposed by the medical establishment and with deep roots in the culture. In her briefing to the visiting U. He was told the best natural medicine treatment was a combination of aloe vera, rosemary and a special herbal cream.

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    OK, but I'm having trouble resolving the discrepancy of Cubans' raging because they can't afford to buy aspirins one bottle costs about one-tenth the average monthly salary in a health system capable of embracing natural medicine techniques with such alacrity. These and other unresolved contradictions of life in Havana hang in the air as I climb aboard the Cubana flight back to Toronto two days later. I'm worried because the leg infection is looking scary again.

    I think I got overconfident and forgot Enrequito's advice to stay off the leg for a couple of days. Back in Toronto I visit the outpatient department at East York General Hospital and get an antibiotic prescription; I'm willing to sacrifice my belief in natural medicine for a quick fix.

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    I have options unavailable to my Cuban friends, even if their public health care is showing an openness and resilience to be envied by neighbors to the north. Buy Now, Pay Later. Already a Subscriber? Log In Here. Please sign in with Facebook or Google below:. If you have an older Salon account, please enter your username and password below: sign in Forgot Password? Log Out. Green medicine How Cuba is integrating natural remedies into its public health care.

    Related Topics Cuba Healthcare Reform. Related The play's the thing for Havana Club.