JIS News

Scores of Jamaicans now have a clearer vision of the future, having benefitted from the services offered by Cuban specialists under the Jamaica/Cuba Eye Care Programme.

This intervention has afforded them the opportunity to undergo treatment for eye conditions that would have otherwise been costly, free of charge.

Launched in January 2010, the local programme seeks to help reduce preventable blindness in adults, through surgical treatment for persons suffering from three specific conditions.

These are: Cataracts, Diabetic Retinopathy (damage to the retina caused by complications of diabetes) and Pterygium (a non-cancerous fleshy growth, usually on the surface of the eye).

According to the programme’s Co-ordinator, Gregory Thomas, since its inception, over 4,200 surgeries have been performed; and over 3, 790 patients have received surgical treatment. This is in addition to the over 46, 000 consultations that have been conducted.

He told JIS News that the programme evolved from the five-year, Jamaica/Cuba Eye Care Project, which previously saw persons being screened for various eye conditions in Jamaica and sent to Cuba for treatment. During that period, 2005 to 2009, over 5,600 surgeries were performed.

“The first Bilateral Agreement of Co-operation between the Governments of Jamaica and the Republic of Cuba for the establishment of an Ophthalmology Centre of Excellence in Jamaica (at the St. Josephs Hospital in Kingston), where persons would be treated for eye disorders here instead of having to seek treatment abroad, was signed on July 28, 2009. This marked the end of an era spanning five years and the beginning of a new one,” he said.

Explaining how the programme works, Mr. Thomas said care is delivered to patients in four phases: Screening (Diagnosis and Selection); Pre-Surgical Evaluation (Clinical, Ophthalmic and Optometric tests); Surgery; and Post-Surgical treatment (four visits).

“Prospective patients need to expect that when they turn up for a screening session, every effort will be made to provide them with a diagnosis. If their condition is treatable under the programme then they can expect to be issued an appointment for Pre-Surgical Evaluation (Pre-Op) within weeks of being screened. If they cannot be treated by us, we will refer them to the most appropriate public health facility for treatment,” he explained.

“Upon completion of Pre-Op, patients are issued with an appointment for surgery along with instructions to follow leading up to surgery,” Mr. Thomas added.

He noted that it is imperative that on the day of surgery, patients are accompanied by an adult, preferably a family member. Cataract and Pterygium Surgeries are done at St. Joseph’s Hospital, while Treatment for Diabetic Retinopathy takes place at the National Chest Hospital in Kingston.

To access the programme, persons may visit their health centre, family doctor or ophthalmologist to obtain a referral which they would take, along with a valid ID and contact telephone numbers, to a location where screening is being conducted, Mr. Thomas told JIS News.

The Co-ordinator pointed out that screening is an important part of the process, as it is here that persons are evaluated to determine whether they are eligible for treatment under the programme.

He noted that while most screenings are conducted at the Jamaica/Cuba Ophthalmology Centre in Kingston (National Chest Hospital), screenings are also done in other health facilities across the Island.

“Screening has been on-going. Between January 2010 and December 2012, over 15, 000 persons were screened in over 60 locations…We intend to screen at least another 5,000 persons during the current calendar year,” he informed.

Mr. Thomas said plans are now in place to improve the programme. He notes that efforts are being made to shorten the turn-around time between the time of selection of the patient and the time the patient receives surgery.

He pointed out that the programme will continue to provide the highest level of care to patients to keep the number of complications to a minimum.

“Since the start of the programme, there has been only one case of serious complication of the over 4, 200 surgeries performed,” he noted.

The Cuban Government has the gratitude of the Jamaicans who have benefitted and will benefit, as well as the appreciation of the Government of Jamaica which has been enjoying diplomatic relations with Cuba for the past 40 years.

Health Minister, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson has expressed appreciation for the assistance the Government has received, particularly in the area of health.

“Jamaica is most appreciative of this internationalist medical service from Cuba, always in a spirit of goodwill and humanism. We are forever indebted to the Cuban government and the people of Cuba,” he said, following a tour of the screening centre and ophthalmology ward at the National Chest Hospital.

Dr. Ferguson noted that the eye project had brought huge benefits to eye patients in the country, and mentioned the relief which patients experienced when their sight is restored.

For further information, persons can contact the offices of the Jamaica/Cuba Eye Care Programme, located at the Ministry of Health, 2-4 King Street, Kingston, at telephone numbers: 948-0017 or 924-9287; fax: 948-0017 or via e-mail: jacubaeyecare@moh.gov.jm

By Alecia Smith-Edwards, JIS Reporter