Patients in 34 Countries Recover Eyesight Thanks to Cuba and Venezuela
All over Cuba these days there are celebrations of the tenth anniversary of “Operation Miracle.” The U.S. public knows almost nothing about this internationalized project involving the restoration of vision for enormous numbers of people.
Set in motion on July 8, 2004, Operation Miracle took shape within the context of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America – otherwise known as ALBA – which Cuba and Venezuela established that year also.
Latin American and Caribbean nations joining ALBA engage in mutually beneficial trade-offs, or so-called solidarity exchanges, of educational and medical services, scientific projects, even commodities. ALBA exemplifies the role of Cuba and Venezuela in spearheading regional integration.
Under Operation Miracle, Cubans and Venezuelans alike have benefited from surgical eye care. Tens of thousands of foreign nationals have traveled to Cuba for ophthalmology care. And Cuban ophthalmologists serving in Venezuela took the lead in establishing 26 eye care centers there. Staffed by eye surgeons, nurses, technicians, and other physicians, centers cropped up throughout Venezuela. They serve Venezuelans but also vision-impaired people from 17 Latin American countries plus Italy, Portugal, and Puerto Rico. Then Operation Miracle organizers established centers in 14 Latin American and Caribbean nations. Ten years after its start the program operates in 31 countries, some in Africa and Asia.
The program serves people denied eye care because of poverty and/or geographic inaccessibility. By far the most common cause of reduced vision the teams deal with is cataract. They also provide treatment for glaucoma, strabismus, retina problems, and abnormal growths. Corrective lenses are provided. These far-flung ophthalmology services are available for patients at no personal cost. So too are the transportation and accommodations they utilize.
According to one report, Operation Miracle has improved or restored vision for 3.4 million individuals. That measure of the project’s effectiveness takes on additional meaning through World Health Organization data showing that 39 million people in the world are blind. These figures are actually within reach of one another, especially because most visual impairment – 80 percent – is preventable or curable. It seems that two formerly colonized, dependent nations have taken giant steps toward addressing a major cause of human disability.