JAMAICA is to serve as the Caribbean hub for the Cuban eye care programme, which has reached out to thousands of people in the region, Cuba's minister of foreign affairs has said.
The main eye operating centre located at St Joseph's Hospital in the eastern section of Kingston has already served over 1,000 patients since it was established here earlier this year with Cuban technology and personnel.
Formerly, Jamaicans and others from around the Caribbean would visit Cuba to have surgeries done, but a shift in policy by Cuba in 2009 resulted in the setting up of several offshore centres, mainly to eradicate the high cost of travel and other expenses that that country has had to absorb.
Known as the Miracle Eye Care Programme, it remains one of the most cherished of the Raul Castro regime, which policymakers are adamant will be kept and strengthened.
"We do this in a very humble way. We are pleased to help Jamaican citizens to recover or improve their sight. So far, 58,000 Jamaican citizens have been assisted, thanks to this programme, with most of them operated on in Cuba," said Minister Bruno Rodrigues Parrilla.
"Since the recent inauguration of the centre [at St Joseph's Hospital] 1,121 patients have been operated on here. We rate above international standards and they have received first quality treatment," he said.
"From now on, all treatments will be done here. We have eight similar centres in other Caribbean countries, but Jamaica has every condition to become a regional hub. This decision, of course, will depend on Caricom, but I think that will be possible," Rodrigues Parrilla added.
The foreign minister said that Jamaica would be used to train staff that will not only serve Jamaica, but other Caribbean countries, and added that Jamaica was the "stage" for the training of the staff.
Boasting about the achievements of the Cuban economy, Rodriguez Parrilla underlined the importance of training to economies.
"In Cuba at present there are 257 Jamaican youth who are studying, with 194 of them just about graduating. There are 161 co-operation workers from Cuba working here in Jamaica and since the beginning of the co-operation in 1974, almost 5,000 have come to ply their services here," he said.
"In general, in the entire Caricom there is a substantial co-operation with Cuba. Right now there are 1,600 Cuban workers working in 17 Caribbean countries and 168,000 Caribbean persons have learnt to read and write with the assistance of Cuban advisors.
"More than 4,000 Caribbean students have graduated from Cuban colleges and universities. More than 1,700 of them have graduated as medical doctors and right now 3,191 Caribbean youth are studying in Cuba and 2,357 of them are studying medicine," he said.
"We have a lot to learn, too, from other Caribbean countries, especially Jamaica, and recently we signed a memorandum of understanding with the University of the West Indies, as there is a prospect here of transferring Cuban medical technology. We have been having excellent exchanges since then," Rodriguez Parrilla said.
One of the important projects that Cuba is focusing on is the improvement of Haiti, following an earthquake last January that resulted in massive loss of lives and a subsequent cholera outbreak.
"Haiti needs help and solidarity. Cuban doctors there are assisting 40 per cent of the cholera patients. The mortality rate of patients assisted by Cuban staff is three times lower compared to the patients who die who were assisted by other medical staff," said the minister.
"At the time of the earthquake, Cubans had already offered medical operations, they have already performed more than 200,000 surgeries. In addition to that they have already performed 45,000 eye surgeries. They have assisted more than 100,000 child deliveries, more than 165,000 Haitians have learnt how to read and write in Creole, thanks to the co-operation of the Cubans.
"Since the time of the earthquake, we have created 76 health units. There are 22 hospitals with state-of-the-art technology. Right now, 40 Cuban health facilities are fully devoted to the assistance of the cholera patients and we intend to increase that figure. We are doing our best to mobilise international assistance and we are doing so in close co-operation with Jamaica and Caricom. But Haiti needs solidarity and resources, more for construction, but most of all for development," said Rodriguez Parrilla, who recently held talks with Jamaica's former Prime Minister PJ Patterson, who is also working to restore normal life to Haiti.