Declaring open the $140 million National Ophthalmology Centre at Port Mourant, Corentyne yesterday Presi-dent Bharrat Jagdeo said that government’s first priority is to provide better health services to residents.
Addressing a gathering which included government ministers and health professionals of Cuba, the President expressed gratitude to the Cubans for the “tremendous help that you are giving us in helping to improve the lives of people.”
He recalled that just before the Cuba-Venezuela Mission Miracle project started he had set aside $30 million in the budget and had said to the Minister of Health [Dr Leslie Ramsammy] that they should start by giving out free spectacles.
Recruits “from around the world” were then hired to provide additional services but those persons were taking a long time to deal with the cases, he said.
After that a “miracle happened” three years ago and he was asked to visit Cuba to discuss sending persons there to have free eye care.
With the opening of the centre however, the first of its kind in the Caribbean, he said patients with eye ailments such as corrective refractive error, cataract, glaucoma, retinopathy, retina detachment would no longer have to travel to Cuba but would be treated there.
The centre, which is being manned by specialist staff from Cuba, was built under a Guyana/Cuba health sector agreement sealed in early 2006. It is expected that patients from neighbouring countries will also seek treatment there.
The President said that the “historic location” at Port Mourant was chosen with Suriname in mind because people from there can access the service easily. He said government wants to ensure that the facility keeps working and providing services to people, regardless of which country patients come from.
He said that despite limited resources, government has placed emphasis on health care as well as education, pointed out that “we believe that if you have healthy people and you educate them well in this globalized world they would be able to achieve prosperity…”
As an economist, he said, he is pleased with major economic achievements and facilities like the ophthalmology centre which serves people every day, gives him great satisfaction.
He related too that he had mentioned to the then President of the United States of America, George W. Bush that if the government was to send the students who are studying in Cuba to a US institution, it would have cost US$75 million.
He also said that the US would not have given the students that opportunity because their “system fails when it comes to monetized version of the Cuban’s assistance to Guyana”.
In that vein, the President said his government would “continue to advocate for Cuba to be given its rightful place in the international community so that it would not face discriminatory practices at the global level because we see Cuba as a dear friend.”
The centre will also make use of micro-incisions for treating some of the conditions, which will allow some patients to be discharged the same day as they undergo the treatment as such incisions heal faster.
Dr Bheri Ramsarran, Minister within the Ministry of Health who gave an overview of the project said the centre had started to operate on February 9 with limited services.
He said that the location was also chosen because the existing hospital was underutilized and lacked personnel and resources. He said at times the institution would just have about five to eight patients and the centre was established to change that.
He too emphasized the good relationship between Guyana and Cuba and said that based on that four diagnostic centres were built at Diamond, Mahaicony, Leonora and Suddie on the Essequibo Coast.
In his remarks, Jorge Rodriguez, Charge d’Affaires at the Cuban Embassy said that the launching of the centre was Cuba’s “expression of gratitude…” He also said that it was done in memory of the late president of Guyana, Dr Cheddi Jagan who hailed from that area.
During the ceremony Ramsarran and Rodriguez signed the Guyana-Cuba agreement.
The team along with the media was given a tour of the facility following the unveiling of the plaque and the cutting of the ribbon to declare it open.