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KINGSTON — The first members of a Cuban biomedical engineering team to restore well-needed medical equipment in the public health system, have arrived in Jamaica.

Minister of Health, Hon. Rudyard Spencer, told a briefing at the ministry, downtown Kingston on Friday (July 29) that the Biomedical Agreement between Jamaica and the Cuban Government will last for a period of two years and cost US$350,000.

He said the first two team members, who are already in the island, will focus on the repair of operating theatre, paediatric and dental equipment.

"The repair of paediatric equipment is important in helping us to reduce the country's infant mortality rate," he noted.

The Cubans will repair, install and calibrate medical equipment, as well as plan and monitor the repair of major hospital equipment and systems and conduct training of local technicians.

The Cuban Medical Services will provide 86 'man-months' to complete the programme of work in the four regional health authorities and the National Public Health Laboratory. The team will also develop a list of parts to be procured, he said.

Mr. Spencer also recalled that, last February, a two-member team of Cuban biomedical engineers visited Jamaica and carried out an exploratory survey of malfunctioning equipment at 12 hospitals and the public health laboratory.

At the time, 815 pieces of biomedical equipment were assessed, of which 65 per cent was found to be functioning, but not at optimal levels, while 75 per cent of the malfunctioning equipment was repairable. They include; incubators, anatomy and pathology equipment, ventilators, neonate incubators, large autoclaves, and surgical and dental equipment.

"Fortunately Cuba operates similar brands of equipment to those in our public health system. The biomedical engineers and technicians are therefore well trained by the manufacturers of these brands, so Jamaica stands to benefit significantly in the area of capacity building," he said.

He noted that the Ministry has strengthened its Health Facilities Maintenance Unit, with the recruitment of two engineers and three biomedical technicians.

"This is the first step in building an elite team at the Ministry of Health, to respond expeditiously to the needs of the regions to reduce down time as a result of equipment failure," he said.

He also stated that there has been a six month extension of the technical cooperation agreement with Cuba, which had ended on July 25. He added that, last week, a team from the Ministry of Health went to Cuba to recruit health workers.

"They interviewed 276 nurses in different specialties, and we intend to recruit 114 in year one of the two years agreement. The nurses are to be both in primary and secondary care," he said.

He added that another team from the Ministry will be travelling to Cuba before the end of August, to interview physicians. This, he said, would essentially complete the process of getting replacements and new persons for the first year of the contract.

By Athaliah Reynolds, JIS Reporter