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Feb 26, 2009

Belizeans receiving eye care in Cuba return home

Story PictureBelizeans continue to benefit from cooperation programmes with development partners. And in areas of education and health, the island of Cuba has been consistent and generous, offering scholarships and free medical treatment to hundreds of Belizeans and extending these opportunities to other CARICOM nationals. Jose Sanchez got an update from the Cuban Ambassador, Manuel Rubido, about our ongoing programme with his country on the occasion of the departure of a new group of medical students.

Manuel Rubido, Cuban Ambassador to Belize
“The scholarship program started with Belize probably about fifteen years ago. We’re in a date very close to establishing diplomatic relations. At this moment we have in Cuba over two hundred Belizeans studying different things, especially in the medical field. With the twenty scholars that have left Belize for Cuba yesterday to start their medical careers is now a hundred and fifty-two Belizeans who are studying medicine in Cuba through different programs and we have over fifty students studying different programs; sports, teaching careers engineering and what have you thirty-three specialties that we offer as scholarships to we offer to Belize every year.”

Jose Sanchez, Reporting
Scholarships are not the only reason why Belizeans venture to Cuba. There are medical missions such as Operation Miracle which has helped many Latin Americans to see.

Manuel Rubido
“Cuba has undergone what we call Operation Miracle which is an eye care program to receive eye operations in Cuba since the year 2004. We started this operation brining patients in from Venezuela. It was identified by our medical brigade there, the amount of eye problems taking into account that we were helping the Venezuelans to develop a literacy campaign. So if you cannot see, it is very difficult to learn to read and write. So we were in a disposition to correct this problem and it started off in 2004 with the Venezuelans. In 2005—somewhere in 2005—the operation was extended to the rest of the Caribbean which is of course our natural region and hold a very strong commitment to the countries of the Caribbean. It started in Belize as well.”

One beneficiary of the Operation Miracle program is Godfrey Ramsey. Forty-three year old Ramsey found out he had eye problems when he took his daughter for a check-up.

Godfrey Ramsey, Received Medical Care in Cuba
“I took my daughter to the Matron Roberts to see about her eye. After the doctor got through, he said let him look at my right eye. When I showed him my right eye, he saw this flesh on it. He advised me to operate on the eye before the flesh spreads over the eye itself.”

Manuel Rubido
“We have managed to operate in Cuba, almost one thousand eight hundred Belizeans and just this year the program has stepped up. We are now making an effort to take at least eighteen Belizeans every week to Cuba to receive their care. And this program is going about without any difficulty.”

Jose Sanchez
“How do you go about the process of selecting Belizeans for this free eye care and who pays the expense of getting there?”

Manuel Rubido
“We have a medical brigade in Belize which comprises of one hundred and sixteen professionals and they are in every district of the country. During their normal work they would identify certain problems related to eye care and they would advise the patients of the possibility of going to Cuba and the patients freely make the decision to go. The expenses are totally paid by Cuba. The airfare, the operation, the lodging the food and they are brought back and they go back to their district.”

Godfrey Ramsey
“I must say the flight, the accommodations, transportation and everything were free. The people are very, very friendly, loving people, the treatment was fantastic. I didn’t have any problem after my surgery cause actually where I stayed is not where the surgery was done it was done at another hospital and I was returned to the hospital where I was staying which was Hostan Salud Tulipan Hospital where I received very good treatment.”

“There are eighteen Belizeans that left with me, but of the eighteen only about nine received eye surgery. About four of them did not receive because two of them were eye defects, one had scar and nothing can be done about that and the other one or two just had to receive treatment and were told they need to get an eyeglass.”

Jose Sanchez
“So your eyes are much better now?”

Godfrey Ramsey
“Yeah much, much better. I’m still on the road to recovery as I’m receiving eye drops presently.”

Operation Miracle has been ongoing in Belize for almost four years. The free medical care is expected to continue for the duration of the Cuban Medical Mission in Belize. Reporting for News Five, Jose Sanchez.

Every year Belize offers a token ten scholarships for Cubans to learn English as a second language at UB’s Regional Language Center. There are currently seven students at the RLC in Belmopan.

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