The structure emphasizes grassroots delivery of health services: the administration of health is centralized while the delivery of services is decentralized. A well-organized system of health centers, known as polyclinics, provide ambulatory care throughout the country. The polyclinic-based system delivers a fairly standard set of services and aimed at universal coverage within territorially defined districts. Doctors and support staff are given responsibility for a given group of families within their assigned district.
In the context of Latin America, Castro's Cuba alone offered a universal, institutionalized system of free rural and urban health care. In the capitalist countries in the region, public and private medical facilities remain more doctor-oriented, more concentrated in the major cities, and less accessible to the masses, and government-subsidized health care is available, in the main, only to the fraction of the labor force who work for the state or formal-sector private firms. Also, the diversity of Cuba's health care offerings are exceptional by regional and Third World standards: the high-tech along with low-tech curative and preventive care.
The Cuban system has come under enormous strain, as with all other aspects of Cuban society and infrastructure, in the decade following the collapse of the country's former patron, the Soviet Union. But these health gains have largely been preserved, and even improved. Globalizing Cuba's grassroots approach would mean training some 850,000 health workers, according to UNICEF and World Health Organization reports, as well as the necessary drugs and equipment. The total cost would be US $200 million, about the price of half a dozen jet fighters.