Dr. Julián Francisco Ruiz Torres, director of the Luis de la Puente Uceda National Center for Minimal Access Surgery, stresses that the U.S. economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba prevents the country from purchasing the necessary equipment to extend robotic surgery across the country. Photo: Nuria Barbosa

The opening in Cuba of a professional training center for the use of robotics in medical treatment is big news, considering that the criminal economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed on the country by the United States, more than half a century ago, makes it virtually impossible for the island to acquire the latest technology in this field.

Dr. Julián Francisco Ruiz Torres, director of the Luis de la Puente Uceda National Center for Minimal Access Surgery, located in Havana, points out to Granma International that for several years the Ministry of Public Health has been trying to purchase the necessary equipment for robotic surgery, but that this has not been possible, as this machinery is only produced by a U.S. firm, which is prohibited from selling its products to the country.

“We have contacted them,” explains the doctor, “we have all the economic resources and the support of our government to obtain the equipment, but our efforts have been in vain.

"Nevertheless, we are training Cuban professionals in this type of technology so that, as soon as the first set of equipment enters the country, it can be put it into operation and treat diseases affecting our population.”

According to Dr. Ruiz, Cuba is in a position to start practicing robotic surgery once the country possesses the necessary equipment, based on the experience accumulated over more than 20 years of minimal access surgery, in addition to having leading centers, surgeons, and physicians qualified in this practice. “Everything depends on the only industry that manufactures this equipment in the United States agreeing to sell it to us,” he stressed.

Dr. Julián Francisco Ruiz Torres, director of the Luis de la Puente Uceda National Center for Minimal A minimally invasive surgical procedure. Photo: 

Robots are currently used in various prestigious clinics in developed countries, working autonomously or semi-autonomously, through a computer system with the ability to operate, monitor, and treat disease with geometric precision in incisions and suturing. Freed from the physical limitations of human beings, these robots can perform microsurgery in specialties such as heart, gastrointestinal, pediatric surgery, and neurosurgery.

The new training center opens its doors on March 27 and is located in the Luis de la Puente Uceda Hospital, in the Havana municipality of Diez de Octubre. It is intended to train professionals working in some 120 minimal access surgery services across the country, as well as colleagues from the Americas attending internships and postgraduate courses in Cuba.

”Our medical center,” explains the professor, “received a large investment from the government to repair and modernize the consultation and hospitalization areas. This provides greater comfort for patients and workers, a better service to the population, and the number of surgeries has increased to solve different health problems.”

This medical institution has been carrying out laparoscopic or minimally invasive surgery since the 1990s. This surgical technique is based on small incisions, using the assistance of a video camera that allows the medical team to observe the surgical area inside the patient and to operate. Avoiding large incisions makes for a much faster and more comfortable post-operative period.

While patients enjoy the same benefits as conventional surgery, this method also offers more aesthetic results (scars just 3 to12 millimeters long), small wounds which have little risk of infection, minimal postoperative pain, and the possibility of the patient being discharged between 24 and 48 hours after the operation.

Meanwhile, Sc.D. Rosalba Roque González, deputy director of the Luis de la Puente Uceda National Center for Minimal Access Surgery, explained that the institution has trained a large number of professionals specialized in minimally invasive surgical procedures, who have extended services throughout the country and in turn contributed to research and taught other colleagues, including students from other countries.

The new center aims to train more than 30 surgeons in its innovative laboratories through various courses. This will provide the teacher coverage to train more than 700 physicians per year, which would represent a three-fold increase in this specialty, the senior professor and research fellow noted.

Dr. Roque added: “One of the learning methods is the exchange with colleagues who perform similar tasks in their own clinics or community health centers across the world. We also intend that our training center combine teaching with research, to experiment with new technologies that enter the country, before being distributed to provincial and municipal hospitals.”

Simulators will be installed at the center, to introduce procedures in specialties such as oncology, otolaryngology, neurosurgery, and gastroenterology. Also to be trained here are nursing professionals and health technicians, mainly in the field of electro-medicine, in order to extend the useful service life of equipment.

To date, some 200 specialists from abroad have completed courses in this field in Cuba, and a greater number is expected with the new training center providing continuous services.

One of the main aspirations is for the new institution to become a reference center in the training of specialists and nurses in the Latin American and Caribbean area. As such, one of the goals will be to certify the quality of teaching according to ISO (International Organization for Standardization) standards, to guarantee the excellence of procedures and services provided.

Dr. Roque concluded: “We already have a professorial teaching staff, composed of 33 professors and 22 researchers, plus all the new technology that has been possible to acquire in recent years. With this equipment, research projects to standardize medical protocols, guarantee optimum use, and obtain the greatest amount of knowledge have initiated.”

Cuba has gained prestige through years of experience in providing free, quality healthcare to its population. Health managers and specialists now face the challenge of taking advantage of the wealth of international knowledge in the development of new technologies, an effort which merits applause.