April 2, 2015
SVG first English-speaking Caribbean nation to use Cuban ‘wonder’ drug

The introduction of a Cuban ‘wonder’ drug aimed at preventing diabetic amputations will see “dramatic results” locally, and is set to make SVG the first English-speaking Caribbean nation to use it.

This according to Cuban and Vincentian health officials who gathered at a {{more}}press conference on the matter last Tuesday in the Cabinet Room.

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said that a health programme targeting patients with poor prognosis diabetic foot ulcers will soon be implemented using the drug Heberprot-P – which alone will cost approximately US$222,000.

“We are going to get this show on the road very quickly,” enthused Gonsalves.

The Prime Minister said that although the entire cost of this programme was not factored into the pharmaceutical costs in the 2015 Budget, he has found the means to cover this additional expense.

He expressed sincere gratitude to the government of Cuba in this venture, as they have brokered a deal to procure the drug at a “significant reduction” in cost. Normally, each vial of the drug costs US$370, and each patient requires 3 – 4 vials per week for the entirety of his/her treatment.

“This is the kind of cooperation that we find in the book of Luke,” he noted. “Those who have helped us in this regard are really Good Samaritans. We are their neighbours, and we have to be each other’s neighbours.”

The programme is predicted to last five years, with the contract being reviewed and renewed as necessary at the end of each year; and will target 50 persons. Each patient will be expected to contribute as much as they can toward the cost, however, if any of them cannot afford to contribute anything then the government will absorb the cost of their treatment.

In terms of patient selection, only those who have exhausted all the traditional methods of treatment for diabetic foot ulcers will be chosen initially.

Gonsalves said that while this drug is expected to see “tremendous benefits”, he is still encouraging persons to eat healthily and exercise regularly to help manage the condition, and where possible avoid developing it altogether.

“Diabetes and hypertension are among the biggest killers, not only in St. Vincent and the Grenadines but the Caribbean… We have to use the science and technology that is available to us.”

Minister of Health, Wellness and the Environment Clayton Burgin also expressed extreme gratitude to the Cuban government for its assistance, and also to those working within the various local Ministries who came together to make this project a reality.

Burgin said that the introduction of Heberprot-P would “see some dramatic results” among patients with advanced stage diabetic foot ulcers – as was the case with retired educator Madge Theobalds, who also attended the press conference.

Theobalds, who Minister Burgin described as “a living testimony”, paid for her own treatment in Cuba around 2012, and said that although it was a painful and difficult process, she is thankful to God for seeing her through it.

“Here I am today having my leg!” she declared.

Burgin said that he looks forward to more success stories in the upcoming years, and pointed out that the Ministry is “very concerned” about the wellness of our local population.

“I must say that we have been making great strides,” said Burgin – explaining that we are in the midst of a reformation and modernisation of our health sector.

He urged members of the public to also play their part.

“Your health is your responsibility. We are here to assist you,” he stated. “The government can’t do it alone.”

Minister of Foreign Affairs Camillo Gonsalves, local surgeon Dr Barry Aussi, Cuban vascular surgeon Dr Eberto Carrazana Peinado, and Cuban Ambassador Luis Castillo Campos also gave brief remarks.

Also in attendance were the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health Luis de Shong, Chief Medical Officer Dr Simone Keizer-Beache, and HEBER BIOTEC SA. representative Virginia Greenidge Smith, among others.(JSV)