Through Operation Miracle, about 2.5M patients benefited from free ophthalmological services.

 

2.5 MILLION PATIENTS BENEFIT
Miracle of solidarity

José A. de la Osa  | Granma International

NINE years after establishing Operation Miracle, Cuba and Venezuela are continuing an undertaking of unprecedented solidarity: providing free treatment to patients with ophthalmological disorders. The balance could not be more encouraging, from mid-2004 through this May 10, 2.5 million people from 34 Latin American and Caribbean countries, including Cuba, and also from Africa, had benefited from this program.

High tech ophthalmological services are now available in all of the country’s provinces.
High tech ophthalmological services are now
 available in all of the country’s provinces.

The Revolution’s policy in relation to public health is well known: social vision and unwavering vocation to alleviate pain among the most in need, unlimited dedication and the disposition to share scientific knowledge with others, always in favor of a world in which justice prevails.

An agreement signed by Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro and President Hugo Chávez of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela on July 5, 2004, led to development of a joint cooperation program for the treatment of people with visual disorders. Three days after the agreement, on July 8, the first Venezuelan patients underwent surgery at Havana’s Ramón Pando Ferrer Ophthalmological Institute. A year later, Fidel decided to extend the program to 14 Caribbean countries and, from September 15, 2005, to 13 Latin American nations. Sixty clinics were built in 19 countries in order to make health services more accessible to populations in need.

This worthy undertaking to operate on people affected by correctable blindness or visual impairment is of vital importance, given that this medical condition affects 135 million in the world. Moreover, 37 million suffer blindness from preventable causes, such as cataracts, and more than one and a half million of them are minors aged under 16 years.

Assessing the work of Operation Miracle, Prime Minister Ralph Everard Gonsalves of St. Vincent & the Grenadines affirmed, “It is the expression of humanism, it is an incredible gesture of internationalist solidarity and its impact in the region has been spectacular; Fidel’s ideas in this context have been brilliant, they have come into direct contact with the needs of the people.”

STORIES TO TELL

Members of the Medical Cooperation Central Unit, witnesses of the development of this program, told Granma that its starting point emerged from the promotion given by Chávez to the Venezuelan social missions.

They recall that Mission Robinson, directed at eliminating illiteracy in the country, presented a problem which teachers participating in the “Yo sí puedo” (I Can Do It) program began to report that many of the students, highly interested in studying, were experiencing learning difficulties, simply because they couldn’t see, or were visually impaired.

Informed of the problem, Fidel inquired into the visual disorders affecting these students and asked for an investigation into the problem so that appropriate measures could be adopted. The central problem among the students was confirmed to be cataracts, one of the principal causes of avoidable blindness in the world, and Pterygium Grade 4.

The most dispossessed layers of the population do not have access to operations for cataract. In private clinics, surgery on one eye costs $1,000-2,000 on average.

Experts began to assess the possibility of providing these operations free of charge, through a health program which was initiated shortly afterward with Venezuelan patients, who immediately traveled to Cuba to undergo surgery in the Pando Ferrer.

Medical treatment for cataracts is surgical and consists of removing the opaque natural crystalline and replacing it with an artificial intra-ocular lens, the resolution power of which is individually calculated for each patient. Nowadays, microsurgical techniques are used, making small incisions without sutures (phacoemulsification), which produce highly satisfactory visual results and the rapid incorporation of patients into working and social life. It is not necessary to wait for blindness before operating. Surgery is performed when loss of sight affects patients’ normal lives.

WHY OPERATION MIRACLE?

The name of this program has its own history. It is also worth noting that that various types of cataract exist. The most frequent type is senile or degenerative, and appears spontaneously in older adults. Its prevalence is 50% in the 65-74 age-group and 70% in persons aged over 70 years. Others are secondary cataracts, due to systemic illnesses such as diabetes; from medicinal sources, such as patients using steroids over a prolonged period; and traumatic cataracts. There are also congenital cataracts and those emerging as a complication from another eye disorders.

The first Venezuelans to undergo surgery at the Ophthalmology Institute were a father and son. The boy was affected by congenital cataracts and his father, from the traumatic type. It was not until after their operations that father and son, both of them sightless to that point, could see each other. It is said that when Fidel was informed of the successful result, he exclaimed, “This operation creates the miracle of being able to see again!”

NEW STAGES

The same advanced technology established in the Pando Ferrer was set up in ophthalmology clinics in the capital cities of all the country’s provinces, providing medical attention for Cuban patients and those arriving from other nations within the Operation Miracle program.

In 2007, given the importance and social reach of this humanist and altruistic health program, an important step forward in cooperation was taken with the establishment of ophthalmological clinics in Latin American countries with a high incidence and prevalence of ocular diseases, fundamentally cataracts, welcomed with pleasure by authorities and the peoples of these countries.

The cooperation program is currently underway in 15 countries with 69 clinics providing medical attention to the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Technology transfer, training and retraining are also provided, thus contributing to social transformations and populations’ quality of life. Non-surgical services are also provided for various visual disorders.

Analysts and participants in the program affirm that never before has such a large white-coated army been deployed to combat the debilitating health problem of cataracts. Over the last nine years, approximately 2,000 Cuban ophthalmologists and technicians, working long hours with much personal sacrifice, distant from their families and friends, have been leaving in Our America the legacy of an indelible imprint of humanism and solidarity.

OPERATION MIRACLE – SURGICAL INTERVENTIONS
2004 – 2013 (to May 10)

COUNTRIES

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

Venezuela 18,845 156,604 130,481 174,071 108,775

145,685

Latin America

 

5,743

85,331

234,283

236,916

291,475

Caribbean

 

10,649

13,917

16,533

16,158

26,309

Africa

 

 

 

5,021

6,847

4,707

Cuba

 

36,193

61,044

54,568

20,463

3,342

TOTAL

18,845

209,189

290,773

484,476

389,159

471,518

continuación…

COUNTRIES

2010

2011

2012

2013

Total

Venezuela 66,779 57,004 66,411 22,592 947,247
Latin America 143,842

96,331

81,088

23,248 1,198,257
Caribbean

9,306

6,620

6,488

2,545

108,525

Africa

5,582

4,950

3,044

2,163

32,314

Cuba

27,285

32,297

31,806

——–

266,994

TOTAL

252,794

197,202 183,837

50,548

2,548,341

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