JIS News

The Ministry of Health has streamlined the process for screening patients before they travel to Cuba for eye surgeries under the Jamaica/Cuba Eye Care Programme.
This move is part of the agreed plan of action by the eight-member delegation, led by the Minister of Health, Horace Dalley, which visited ophthalmology centres in Cuba in June, where Jamaican patients are receiving treatment under the programme. The visit came in the wake of reports that several patients had experienced complications following surgeries.
“We are now using the standard set by the World Health Organisation for screening, so if the patient is considered to be hypertensive and it is uncontrolled, then we will not send them,” said Dr. Sandra Knight, Coordinator of the Jamaica/Cuba Eye Care Programme.
This also means that persons suffering from conditions such as diabetes and hypertension will have to get their conditions under control before they are allowed to undergo surgeries in Cuba.
“We are also trying to limit persons with other conditions like thyroid problems, cancers and heart diseases,” she told JIS News, explaining that these conditions would determine the patient’s prognosis in terms of how quickly they would heal, if their sight would return fully, and how soon they could return home after surgery.
Patients, whom the doctors suspect might have additional health problems, will be referred to one of three institutions for further screening. These are the Kingston Public, Cornwall Regional and Mandeville hospitals.
“The patient may have a traumatic cataract where the lens may become opaque as a result of trauma to the eye years ago. This patient is sent for further tests such as an ultra sound, to discern the full extent of the problem,” Dr. Knight explained.
Gordon Robotham, Consultant Ophthalmologist at Kingston Public Hospital, told JIS News that he and his colleagues were pleased with the changes.
“One of the major issues was that when they [Cuban doctors] see a lot of patients out at the screening centres, sometimes, the patients have other problems be it eye or other medical problems, which need sorting out, and there was not a good system before for us to interact with them and for them to refer the patients to us.”
As it pertains to the current screening process, two Cuban doctors along with a nurse practitioner visit some 20 centres across the island to screen patients. These centres include police stations, hospitals and health centres.
“The doctors examine all the patients that come to the centre, and if they decide that the patient has a problem that can be corrected on the programme, then the patient is sent to the nurse to have their blood pressure checked, among other checks,” Dr. Knight informed.
In the early months of the programme, which commenced last August, an average of 200 to 300 persons were screened daily. On some days, a maximum of 500 persons were screened. The numbers have presently fallen between 80 and 100. “The numbers are going down because we have reached to thousands already, so the number will automatically go down,” Dr. Knight said.
In August 2005, the governments of the Republic of Cuba, Venezuela and Jamaica, together with Caribbean partners – Dominica, Guyana, St. Lucia and Suriname – signed the historic Bilateral Agreement ‘Mission Operation’ for their nationals to receive ophthalmology treatment in Cuba. The main surgeries undertaken are those relating to cataract and pterigium.
Some 4,500 Jamaican patients have been treated since the inception of the programme.

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