By Alecia Smith-Edwards
KINGSTON, Jamaica (JIS) -- Minister of Health, Dr Fenton Ferguson, has expressed appreciation for assistance, particularly in the area of health, which Jamaica has been receiving from Cuba for the past 40 years.
“Our country has benefited much from Cuba’s internationalist goodwill. The government and people of Jamaica appreciate the sacrifice of the Cuban government and people in making this a reality especially in the field of health,” the minister said.
He was addressing a celebratory function on Tuesday marking the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Cuba and CARICOM/Jamaica.
The minister cited the “Operation Miracle” eye care project launched by Cuba in Jamaica in 2005, which he described as one of the most outstanding medical projects in Jamaica’s history, “and one which has earned the eternal gratitude of the Jamaican people”.
“This programme has brought immense benefits to eye patients in the country and has been extended to the wider Caribbean region,” he said, noting that more than 66,000 Jamaicans have been screened under the programme while over 9,000 patients received free eye surgeries.
Ferguson further stated that Cuba has provided training for close to 600 Jamaican doctors in various facets of medicine and supplied a host of professionals, primarily doctors and nurses for service in the public health sector in Jamaica since the 1970s.
“At the request of the Ministry of Health in January this year, an agreement was signed between our Ministry and the Ministry of Public Health in Cuba for some 499 medical professionals including doctors, medical technologists, cytotechnologists, nurses, nursing tutors, physiotherapists and clinical dieticians to serve in Jamaica over the next two years, particularly in underserved rural areas as well as in major hospitals,” he informed.
Also, as part of this agreement, more recently, 45 male and female nurses from Cuba covering specialist areas such as ophthalmology, burns, accident and emergency and haemodialysis were contracted to work in Jamaica. This is addition to the 19 specialist doctors in the area of primary health care that were deployed throughout the four regional health authorities across Jamaica in May this year.
The minister noted that Cuba has also provided critical assistance in the biomedical area to help restore vital medical equipment in local hospitals and health centres. The Cuban biomedical project has also been involved in retrofitting and refurbishing many hospital departments, with over 140 pieces of dental equipment have been serviced and repaired, and a revised flow, redesign and complete layout plan for the central sterile service departments has been developed.
“The project is saving millions of dollars worth of medical equipment, which could otherwise have been rendered useless,” he said.
Additionally, over 180 pieces of a combination of anaesthetic, ventilators, incubators and infant warmers were checked and serviced, and some are awaiting the arrival of spare parts, he informed.
“We look forward to deepening this commitment in areas such as trade in pharmaceuticals and cooperation in health research between our countries,” he said.
For his part, Cuban ambassador, Yuri Gala Lopez, noted that from 1972 to date, Cuba has been supporting its Caribbean counterparts’ efforts at regional integration, by implementing “its novel modest co-operation in the fields of education, culture, training of human resources, health, energy saving, agriculture and other sectors”.
“During these 40 years, more than 20,000 Cuban specialists have provided their services in all CARICOM countries, mainly in the health and educational sectors. Cuba’s scholarship programmes have benefitted over 3,000 CARICOM nationals. Besides, more than 2,000 students from those CARICOM countries are currently studying in Cuba,” he said.
Turning to Jamaica relations, the ambassador said that the Cuban embassy is pleased to have a strong contingent of health specialists in Jamaica, noting that currently there are more than 200 Cuban specialists in Jamaica supporting bilateral programmes, mainly in the fields of health and education.
He committed the Cuban government’s “unwavering will to continue strengthening and expanding the relations of brotherhood, solidarity and co-operation between Cuba and Jamaica”.
He argued that for Cuba, co-operation with other countries of the south is a duty and a matter of satisfaction.
“For Cuba, it’s not simply about providing what we have to spare, but to modestly share the little resources that we have as a contribution to the building of a better world,” he stated.