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4 Operación Milagro Bringing Vision to Millions Operation Miracle is humanity at its best. It is something that has never happened before in the world. It is an incredible gesture of international solidarity. Its impact on the region has been spectacular . . . and has touched the needs of the people directly. Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Being blind in a developing or underdeveloped country is much more of a challenge than it is in an industrialized one. Often the parents will have limited funds to spend on educational opportunities for their children, and what little is available will be spent on “able-bodied” siblings, since they are more likely to contribute to the family’s precarious finances. Access to special education, braille machines, and guide dogs will be severely limited and often impossible to access, much less afford. As a result, most blind people in the developing world will be illiterate, poor, and unemployed. They often contribute little to the economic development of their country, as well as to their families. In addition, life expectancy of the blind is usually half that of someone with eyesight. Finally, because most blind people in underdeveloped countries are unable to find work, they are frequently an economic burden for their family and must be cared for, thus reducing even more potential family income. By contrast, people who are cured of their blindness can become functional members of society. They develop self-respect, need little or no extra care, and can participate more fully in group activities. They can now work in the fields or city, collect water or firewood, attend schools, and learn to read (which also opens many doors to employment). According to the World Health Organization, there are 285 million people who are visually impaired worldwide, of whom 39 million are blind and 246 million have low or badly reduced vision. Significantly 90 percent live in developing countries.1 It has been estimated that there are 3 million people in Latin Operación Milagro: Bringing Vision to Millions · 97 America who are blind, while between 7 and 10 million suffer from poor vision . The major causes of visual impairment are cataracts (50–60 percent), diabetic retinopathy (15 percent), and glaucoma (15 percent).2 Much of the blindness encountered in underdeveloped and developing societies is avoidable, since it is often caused by poor living conditions, contaminated water, malnutrition, and accidents, factors made worse by poor access to healthcare. Even more troubling is that many of resulting diseases that result in blindness, such as cataracts, glaucoma, and corneal opacities, can be resolved easily by surgery that takes but a few minutes. Cataracts, for instance, can be removed in a simple 15-minute operation. Tragically, these operations are usually beyond the financial means of the people affected by these medical conditions—and as a result they continue to live in darkness. For most North Americans and Europeans, having cataract surgery is a relatively easy (and affordable) process, costing anywhere between $1,000 and $3,000, while in countries with a national health plan the operation is free. The surgery is quick and straightforward. Sadly, this relatively affordable charge is impossible for most living in the underdeveloped world, even when it costs just $100 or $200. Recognizing this need, the Cuban and Venezuelan governments initiated the Operación Milagro (Operation Miracle) program in 2004, seeking initially to contribute to the restoration of sight (and dignity) to the poor in Venezuela and subsequently to other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. A quick Google subject search of “Operation Miracle,” or its subsequent development in Venezuela, Misión Milagro, results in hundreds of articles detailing the medical cooperation of Cuba in its ophthalmology program being provided in over 20 countries (although still mainly focused on Latin America and the Caribbean). A few examples will suffice to illustrate the extent of this medical cooperation. In no particular order there are articles on 45,000 eye surgeries having been completed by Cuban ophthalmologists in Uruguay since 2007; over 61,000 Jamaicans have been examined and 7,000 operated on by Cuban specialists; over 32,000 Africans and 1 million Venezuelans have received eye surgery; 37,000 Argentines have been operated on in Cuba and Bolivia; 15,000 Paraguayans have received eye surgery from Cuban ophthalmologists; the same is true for 93,000 Ecuadorians , 650,000 Bolivians, and 61,000 Nicaraguans; in February 2010 it was reported that Cuban specialists had performed almost 6...


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MARC Record
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