Psychology is an integral part of the Cuban healthcare system, which has as a fundamental pillar primary care, provided by the community doctor and nurse. Prioritized, therefore, is the impact of their work, which includes the promotion and protection of health, combined with prevention and treatment of illnesses, in addition to psychological rehabilitation of patients.
These were the words spoken by Emilio Delgado Iznaga, ministry national director of medical medicines and technology, during the opening of the 7th International Heath Psychology Conference, which began November 12 and will run through November 14 in Havana’s Convention Center.
Discussed during the event, in which representatives from more than 30 countries – around 200 international and 350 Cuba delegates – are participating, were the most recent advances made in the field of psychology, and Delgado Iznaga’s work in the health sector.
The role of psycho-oncology in the sphere of health psychology was one of the topics brought up for discussion. María del Carmen Llantá Abreu, head of the National Oncology and Radiobiology Institute’s Psycho-oncology and Social Work services, described the different functions carried out by the department, ranging from general healthcare, to promotion, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of patients, also offering them support at the end of their lives. “Psycho-oncology is a branch of Health Psychology which deals with all issues relating to cancer treatment and education; in addition to those relating to patients, families and members of the health teams,” stated the specialist.
How to promote healthy lifestyles, how to encourage people to visit the doctor, before the first symptoms appear, how to encourage people to seek medical help in order to reduce the time of indecision, are some of the actions which Llantá Abreu outlined as essential elements of their work.
The specialist also stated that, in the case of cancer, which is the main cause of death in Cuba, it is very important that people know how to properly structure their search for medical help, as an early diagnosis, means timely treatment.
“This branch helps in the field of cancer education, but also serves patients, helping them to appropriately deal with the entire process which they must undergo. In addition to the different treatment strategies such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, we also ease their suffering by preserving their quality of life, but through psychological strategies and resources, which we provide not just for them, but also for their families,” she commented.
Llantá Abreu emphasized that another of their main responsibilities is helping professionals take care of themselves, in order to be able to provide quality care to their patients.
“We work therefore on the professionals’ needs, on diagnostic information – known as the conspiracy of silence – because sometimes they don’t allow patients to learn of their sufferings,” she stated.
The psychologist noted that professionals must be able to deal with their own problems, as the structures in place are still very biologistical and paternalistic. In this sense, she highlighted that they must be helped with their self-care, but always with a high level of responsibility.
Psychologist Alina de las Mercedes Campos Puente, discussed the psychological condition and treatment of patients with Alzheimer’s the role of professionals in the field, in treating this disease. “We are re-addressing this issue, because it is increasingly debilitating the population and is a disease which erases one of the most important elements of life: memories.”
Campos Puentes stated that, while this illness gradually destroys the sufferer, increasingly younger patients are appearing with the disease. Speaking about her work with Alzheimer’s patients, she gave details on the use cognitive behavioral therapy which slows down the development of the illness in patients who still retain some memory.
“Cognitive behavioral therapy is a psycho-stimulation program which works the memory, speech, and orientation, given that patients suffering from the disease start to forget where they are, those who surround them, and their identity. We therefore try to at least rescue the little they have left of their memories,” commented the psychologist.
In regards to family doctors, Campos Puentes explained that they also work with psycho-therapeutic programs to learn how to organizes themselves and reduce the psychological impact of their work.
Likewise, she noted that work is carried out in phases, subdivided into: self-esteem treatment, social abilities, communication, and relaxation, actions which help, primarily, to make patients’ lives a little more manageable and harmonious.
Comprehensive care of non-transmittable chronic disease, violence, addiction, family health, psychology human resources training, and others, will be some of the issues discussed in the sessions held through November 14.
By Amaya Saborit Alfonso, Granma Internacional