375,000 Have Sight Thanks to Cuba
HAVANA (AP) - Cuba will bring its free eye surgery program to Africa and Asia in the coming months, expanding a campaign that has restored eyesight to hundreds of thousands of poor people in 28 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Most of the surgeries are done at the Cuban Ophthamology Institute in western Havana, a complex of buildings with 34 operating rooms where 62 doctors and dozens of residents can perform simultaneous operations, the directors said.
But "Operation Miracle" has also expanded to clinics in Venezuela and Bolivia and Cuban teams will soon expand to Ecuador and Mexico as well.
Various countries in both Africa and Asia have asked for Cuba's help, so in December, the first eye clinic using technology provided by the Cuban government will open in a yet-to-be-named country in Africa or Asia, with more to follow, director Marcelino Rios Torres said in Havana at the Non-aligned Movement's summit.
The Cuban government usually pays for air fare and other costs, as well as the surgeries. Since the program began in July 2004 with a group of poor Venezuelan patients, Cuban doctors have performed eye surgery, mostly for cataracts, on 375,619 patients, Rios Torres said.
As the program has grown, Cuba has acquired cutting-edge technology, mostly from the European Union and Asia because of the decades-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. In return, Cuba offers specialists whose dedication to serve the poor reflects the zeal of the Cuban revolution, the directors said.
"The mission is only directed at those patients who can't pay for private health care and don't have insurance," said Reinaldo Rios Caso, the institute's vice-director.
The patients, he said, are "poor people who have been blind for years because they're poor and would continue to be blind if not for this kind of help."