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Jamaica health delegation gets responses from eye care patients in Cuba

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Kingston Jamaica July 1: "íVer es creer!" means "seeing is believing" and this was the main objective of the Jamaican delegation that visited Cuba from June 16 to 18 as part of a review of the Jamaica/Cuba Eye Care Programme.Led by Minister of Health, Horace Dalley, the delegation was welcomed by Dr. Gustavo Aldereguia Lima, Director General of the University Hospital in the province of Cienfuegos, Cuba, who invited the group to observe and assess the quality of care given to Jamaican patients.

Led by Minister of Health, Horace Dalley, the delegation was welcomed by Dr. Gustavo Aldereguia Lima, Director General of the University Hospital in the province of Cienfuegos, Cuba, who invited the group to observe and assess the quality of care given to Jamaican patients.

The University hospital, a state-of-the-art facility, is the site where some 544 Jamaicans have had their eye operations and where overall, 1,003 persons from the Caribbean have had eye surgeries since last August.

While on tour of the hospital, the group had the opportunity to view, via closed circuit video, a live pterigium procedure, which was taking place in one of the several operating rooms.

The trip was made in the wake of reports from Dr. Albert Lue, Senior Ophthalmologist at the Kingston Public Hospital, that the eyesight of several persons in the programme deteriorated within six months after receiving treatment in Cuba.

Dr. Lue indicated to the Health Ministry that 14 of the 60 patients who returned to Jamaica, having sought treatment last year, experienced serious trauma to the eye, including cornea damage. Most of these patients were treated at the University hospital in the province of Manzanillo.

In response to the concern, the Cuban authorities transferred all Jamaican patients to the Pasacaballo facility and have since removed the Manzanillo health facility from the programme, as well as called in the doctors there, whose work was being questioned following eye surgeries.

Additionally, two Cuban ophthalmology specialists are now in Jamaica to investigate the complaints and the authorities have agreed to provide cornea transplants for those Jamaican patients requiring corrective measures.

In the meantime, the Ministry of Health is reviewing the protocol for screening patients before and after they travel to Cuba.

Chief Medical Officer at the Ministry of Health, Dr. Barry Wint, says that one of the main objectives of the review is to ensure that there is a closer relationship between the Cuban and Jamaica ophthalmologists.

The group also visited the Pascaballo Hotel in Cienfuegos, a spacious five-floor facility equipped with relatively new machinery and technology used in the screening process prior to surgery. There is also a room with dedicated staff for post-operative care. In addition, a fully equipped dental department with highly trained staff is situated on the compound.

Some of the patients said they were happy to discuss their experience under the programme, amidst the concerns expressed by the local medical officials.

Elaine Grant, a 34 year-old St. Ann shopkeeper, reports that she had the pterigium procedure done on both eyes. This involves cutting away extra flesh covering the eyes.

"Although some people may be afraid, they should not be afraid. It is okay and easy," she says, while adding that the hotel was "fine" and that she received a daily check-up.

"Excellent!" is how Suzette Simpson of St. Catherine described her two-week experience at the eye-care facility. "The work is satisfactory and I am comfortable with the result that was attained and I will encourage everyone that has an eye problem to come to Cuba to get it rectified," she says.

She received medication to take home to Jamaica and vows to follow through with the instructions given to her by the doctors, as she knows that not doing so, may lead to post-operative complications. "With the treatment that I have gotten, I do not want to leave Cuba, and (this) goes to show that I am happy".

Given her positive experience, she says she will now encourage her mother to come. "She needs her eyes to be done, but she said that she would send me first," she explains and now "there is no fear".

"When it is over you feel a little burning and the doctors give you pills to take," Nadine Barrett, a 35 year-old maintenance worker from St. James says as she relates her experience. For her, the operation went well and lasted 20 minutes.

While at the facility, Miss Barrett says she was feeling a pain in her chest and was examined thoroughly by the doctors. In addition, she got a dental check up. "My stay was wonderful. I had no problem," she beams.

Encouraging those persons who might be apprehensive about participating in the programme, Miss Barrett says: "I will tell them to come. The love that they have shown us here is unbelievable. They are so warm. The only thing that was left for them to do, is bathe you.and if you don't stand up strong they bathe you too"."

However, there is one concern that most of the patients speak of - the food. "The food is not so spicy like how it is in Jamaica but it is good for my diet and I might lose some it does not matter," Miss Sibble explains.

When the tour ended, both Jamaican patients and Cuban staff members broke out in an impromptu tribute to the programme by singing the Jamaican and Cuban national anthems.

This is the moment that Jamaica's Ambassador to Cuba, Elinor Sherlock, who was also on the tour, relishes. She was heartened by the endorsement of the programme by the Jamaican patients, the care they received and the outpouring of love for the Cuban nurses and doctors.

"The facilities are excellent and the doctors (are) highly skilled. A lot of pride is reflected in the centre as they have developed and outfitted it with state-of-the-art equipment," she tells JIS News.
"I think what we have seen has made us believe that we have every reason to have full confidence in the programme and to make it accessible to all Jamaicans who need it so desperately," she says.

Ambassador Sherlock notes that assigning Delita McCallum, a Foreign Affairs Official, to the programme, has been critical to the process.

Assigned since March as Jamaica's Liaison Officer for Mission Milargo, under which the Jamaica/Cuba Eye Care programme falls, Miss McCallum says she is responsible for talking with patients prior to surgery and to provide translation services for the medical team and patients.

Outlining a typical day, Miss McCallum says that patients are accompanied to buses by 7:00 a.m. and are taken to the hospital, some 15 minutes away, where they undergo surgery and they return in the evening between 8:00 and 9:00 p.m.

She says that the patients will ask questions about their operations and post-operative steps. "I have to remind them not to cook or stay over heat, not to use their hands to rub their eyes, and to rest until the doctors advise them otherwise," she notes.

Miss McCallum says she is very comfortable with the placement of patients at the facility. "I think that we have had quite a number of successful cases and most persons are pleased with the programme.most of them would not have been able to afford these surgeries ranging from $80,000 for one eye in Jamaica. Most patients are indeed grateful for the attention that they have received so far," she points out.

The group was then taken to the Marina Hemmingway facility, where Jamaicans, including children and young people, were recuperating.

Odene Thomas, a 16 year-old student of Robert Lightbourne High School in Trinityville, St. Thomas says that he has been in Cuba for a month with his mother, Marlene Wilson. He had surgery for ptosis, otherwise referred to as a droopy eyelid, a condition he has had since birth.

"The result is very good but it itches a lot," he says.

His mother is glad her only son was able to benefit from the programme. "The doctors are good and the facility is okay. Sure things are different here, but you have to adjust to it because you are not at home," she says.

One patient says, "The main thing is that these Jamaicans do not follow instructions well," he says, offering his view of the post operative complications. "The doctors tell them not to have sex, not to go to sea, not to cook and things like that because if you do, there will be complications, but they don't hear," he laments.

"You just have to wait until the healing process is complete. So all of who have been complaining.they do not follow instructions. I am here and have seen people come along and they say that they have complications but I have none," he explains.

In August 2005, the Governments of the Republic of Cuba, Venezuela and Jamaica, together with Caribbean partners - Dominica, Guyana, St. Lucia and Suriname - signed the historic Bilateral Agreement 'Mission Operation' for their nationals to receive medical attention in the field of ophthalmology in Cuba. The main surgeries undertaken are those relating to Cataract and Pterigium.

Some 2,185 Jamaican patients have been treated since the inception of the programme in August last year. There has been a report of 27 cases of post-operative complications, but this is being verified and an appeal has been made for persons to report their complications to their eye clinics.

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