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Cablegate: Bolivarian Vision for Argentine Cataract Patients

VZCZCXYZ0012
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBU #0144/01 0381331
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 071331Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0188
INFO RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION 6800
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 6696
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 1703
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ FEB MONTEVIDEO 7000
RHMFIUU/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEHUB/USINT HAVANA 0079

UNCLAS BUENOS AIRES 000144

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

USAID/DDA FOR MARK SILVERMAN

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL SOCI EAID PREF PROP TBIO AR CU VZ
SUBJECT: BOLIVARIAN VISION FOR ARGENTINE CATARACT PATIENTS

REF: 07 ASUNCION 576

-------
Summary
-------

1. Argentines needing cataract surgery are traveling to
Bolivia for treatment by Cuban doctors. A leading Buenos
Aires newspaper reported that approximately 17,000 Argentine
citizens crossed the border for that reason over the past two
years, although that figure is likely inflated. The GOA will
not allow unlicensed Cuban (or other) doctors to practice
here. At the same time, some poorer provinces within
Argentina face perennial shortages of specialty medical
supplies, spurring the medical migration. We are trying to
discover whether the GOA and the Argentine medical community
are interested in staunching that patient flow and, if so,
what helpful role we can play in that effort. End Summary.

-------------------
A Medical Migration
-------------------

2. Leading daily La Nacion reported February 4 that 17,000
Argentines have traveled to Bolivia over the past two years
for cataract surgery by Cuban doctors under the auspices of
the Cuban-Venezuelan Operacion Milagros (Operation Miracle)
initiative. According to the article, Argentine NGOs and
non-official social services organizations have been scouring
underprivileged areas in Argentina for cataract surgery
candidates. Once identified, such candidates were then
provided with transportation to two sites along the
Argentina-Bolivia border (Villazon and Yacuiba, bordering the
northern Argentine provinces of Jujuy and Salta,
respectively), where three hundred Cuban doctors are
reportedly available to perform the necessary surgery.

----------------------
The Argentine Response
----------------------

3. The Director of International Relations at the Argentine
Ministry of Health, Sebastian Tobar, told Emboff that
Argentina is unable to confirm the 17,000 patient figure
cited in the newspaper account, as no relevant official
statistics exist. Still, he strongly disputed the need for
Argentine citizens to go elsewhere for cataract care, and
made it clear that the Government of Argentina has
demonstrated no interest in allowing foreign doctors to
perform operations on Argentine soil. Specifically, Tobar
said: "As opposed to other countries in the region, Argentina
has not found it expedient to participate in programs whereby
Cuban doctors perform surgeries on Argentine territory."

4. To support his claim that the GOA meets the cataract-care
needs of its citizens, Tobar described his ministry's
achievements in the area, beginning with the establishment in
2006 of the National Program of Eye Health and Prevention of
Blindness. According to Tobar, that program boasts the
following accomplishments:

-- Cooperation pacts signed with 23 of Argentina's 24
provinces.

-- Close coordination with the GOA's indigenous affairs
entity, to ensure access and care for Argentina's often
economically disadvantaged indigenous population.

-- Government purchase of the expensive intraocular lenses,
surgical kits, and other materials necessary for cataract
surgery. In the fourteen month period ending in December
2007, the GOA purchased 4,643 lenses and surgically implanted
3,236 of those.

5. The Argentine Ophthalmologic Society, which represents
many of the approximately 4,500 ophthalmologists licensed to
practice in Argentina, also weighed in with Emboff. It was
the Society and similar groups whse protests forced the GOA
to reject the idea of Cuban doctors operating in Argentina
without the proper certifications, according to Society
Executive Secretary Maria Ines Kawlucki. Society President
Dr. Edgardo Manzitti confirmed to Emboff that opthalmologists
from provinces near Bolivia have complained that patients
that would ordinarily be expected to seek treatment within
their home provinces are instead crossing the border. Dr.
Manzitti blamed a lack of provincial resources (specifically,
specialty medical supplies, which he said were always in
short supply) and energetic marketing by organizations
associated with Operacion Milagros for that phenomenon. Dr.
Manzitti stressed that there is no shortage of trained
specialists within Argentina.

----------------
An Embassy Role?
----------------

6. Post has watched with interest Embassy Asuncion's
partnership (reftel) with a U.S. eye health firm (Alcon) and
Paraguayan doctors, whereby the U.S. firm donated intraocular
lenses and cataract surgical kits, while Paraguayan doctors
contacted by the Embassy used those supplies to provide free
cataract operations to needy Paraguayans. We have made
initial contacts with both Alcon and the Argentine
Ophthalmologic Society with an eye to possibly initiating a
similar partnership in Argentina, and will report on
developments.

-------
Comment
-------

7. No reliable statistics exist concerning the number of
cataract operations undertaken each year in Argentina,
according to Dr. Manzitti. Still, no expert with whom we
spoke -- calls to Operacion Milagros were not returned --
found credible the newspaper's assertion that over 8,000
Argentines per year opt to travel to Bolivia for cataract
surgery. That number is likely inflated. It is nonetheless
clear that many Argentines are availing themselves of
Operacion Milagros's offer of free surgery. We will keep
working to determine whether the GOA and the Argentine
medical community are interested in staunching that patient
flow and, if so, what helpful role we can play in that
effort.
WAYNE

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