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Resurgent Cuba goes global with eye surgery programme
Since July 2004, Cuban surgeons have operated for free on more than 375,000 patients from South America and the Caribbean, curing cataracts and other serious eye conditions. Cuba has now announced that the programme, entitled ‘Operation Miracle’ will be extended to cover Africa and Asia.
Until now, ‘Operation Miracle’ has provided treatments, to people from 28 countries who cannot afford to pay for eye surgery, from clinics in Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia. Dr Marcelino Rios Torres, the President of the Cuban Society of Ophthalmology, has informed delegates at the Summit of the international Non-Aligned Movement now taking place in Cuba, that the programme’s first clinic in an Asian or African country will be opened in December 2006, and more will follow.
According to a Canadian Press report, Dr Reinaldo Rios Caso, the vice-director of the Cuban Opthamology Institute in Havana, commented:
"It's true this is 'Made in Cuba': doctors who operate until three or four in the morning, doctors who work with a tremendous commitment. This isn't 'Made in Japan' or 'Made in the U.S.A.'. It's a genuine product of the Cuban revolution.
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."
The Canadian Press report added:
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.
‘Operation Miracle’ is the product of years of sustained investment by Cuba’s communist government in the country’s public services.
During the 1990s, the Cuban economy suffered badly following the loss of its socialist trade and investment links with the USSR and allied communist-led states. The material standard of living on the island fell catastrophically and food rationing had to be introduced to prevent starvation. But the country’s leaders maintained levels of spending on education and health. In recent years, Cuba’s economic situation has been improving, enabling it to provide a First-World class health service for its own citizens in addition to sending 25,000 medical personnel abroad to work in other Third World countries. Cuba also trains thousands of medical students from other countries.
Material standards of living in Cuba are currently rising rapidly. The economy has been boosted by trade and investment agreements with Venezuela and China; several European and Canadian firms are also involved in joint ventures with Cuba’s state-owned industries. As a result, Cuba is one of a very few countries in the world where economic growth is running at more than 10% per annum. On 12th September 2006, Bloomberg News quoted a statement by Cuba’s Economy and Planning Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez, that the Cuban economy grew by 12.5% in the first half of 2006, with most growth taking place in the construction, transport and services industries. The minister explained that the increased wealth will be used to benefit the people and the long-term development of the country:
“We are moving forward in our policies of favoring workers' income, keeping unemployment at low levels and investing in our future ability to generate electricity at lower costs.”
In 2005, Cuba embarked on a massive drive to save energy while increasing peoples’ real incomes. A big rise in electricity bills was more than offset by a huge increase in the minimum wage (from 100 to 250 pesos); this was followed by steep pay rises for skilled workers in state-owned industries and the public services.
In March this year, the Cuban government struck a deal with Haier, a company based in China’s eastern Shandong province, to supply 300,000 energy-efficient refrigerators. These are replacing obsolete Soviet-made, and even many ancient US-made electricity-guzzling refrigerators which are still used by Cuban households.