The health ministry is expected to finalize a new agreement with the Cuban Government next week that will see Jamaicans receiving critical optical treatment here under the Jamaica-Cuba Eye Care Project.
Aundre Franklyn, parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Health, told the Observer that the ministry accepted the offer from the Cuban Government in February to treat Jamaicans locally as opposed to the original agreement where Jamaicans are flown to Cuba for treatment, which lasted three weeks.
A September 2005 Observer file photo of former Prime Minister P J Patterson greeting 75-year-old David Scott and his daughter, Verona, at the Norman Manley International Airport after they arrived from Cuba. Scott who had lost his sight two years before due to cataract, was able to see after an operation in Cuba under the Jamaica-Cuba Eye Care Program.
“When the minister (Ruddy Spencer) goes to conduct bilateral talks with the Cuban Government next week it will be a part of the discussions,” Franklyn pointed out. “I wholeheartedly welcome the project and look forward to placing local surgeons to assist in the project.”
Minister Spencer is among several Government ministers who will be accompanying Prime Minister Bruce Golding to Cuba this weekend to hold discussions with Cuban President Raul Castro and Cuban officials on an expanded program of bilateral co-operation in areas such as health care.
Meanwhile, the ministry has already identified two potential sites, one on the North Coast and another in Kingston, where it will establish facilities to carry out the project. The Cuban Government has committed to supplying the equipment and staff for the facilities. Local ophthalmologists will also work alongside the Cuban specialists.
Franklyn, however, said that this does mean that the new agreement will repeal the current one, as some patients might be flown to Cuba if necessary.
“The Cuban Government have said that they will assess whether or not we will still need to fly some of the patients to Cuba,” he said. “If we find that we have large numbers, then we will have to do some here and some persons will be sent to Cuba.”
Now in its third year, the Jamaica-Cuba Eye Care Project is in its second phase. In August 2005, the Jamaican Government, along with the governments of the Republic of Cuba, Venezuela and Caribbean partners, Dominica, Guyana, St Lucia and Suriname, signed the historic Bilateral Agreement dubbed ‘Mission Operation’, under which nationals of each country would receive medical attention in the field of ophthalmology in Cuba.
Some 20,000 Jamaicans have been screened since the program began, while over 4,000 surgeries have been performed. These patients receive treatment for four major conditions including, Cataract, Pterygium, Strabismus (crossed eyes) and Ptosis also known as drooping of the upper eyelid.
Since the beginning of the year, close to 400 persons have been treated under the project. An additional 92 people left the island for Cuba on Tuesday, and Cuban doctors are currently conducting screening in communities in St Thomas. This will continue until May 9.
Yesterday, Franklyn told the Observer that the second phase of the project is now more structured - at least 100 patients are sent to Cuba for treatment every three weeks.
“[In phase one, after a while] there were no flights on a consistent manner coming from Cuba because when the project started there were eight flights per month, and it went down to approximately one flight to Cuba every six or eight weeks,” he said. The ministry incurs the cost of remunerating persons who are hired to run the program.