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Cuba Banks on Health

Dr. Bernal and Dr. Eddy Sanchez

Dr. Bernal and Dr. Eddy Sanchez check packaged medical tissues at Cuba's Tissue Bank. (Credit: L. Wedekind / IAEA). More photos...

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Havana, Cuba -- Cuba is one of 28 countries where the IAEA has helped set up what are called medical "Tissue Banks." They are special facilities that receive, analyze, and prepare donated animal and human tissues, skin, and bones, for example, that severely burned and other patients need for orthopedic or reconstructive surgery.

Cuba´s Tissue Bank, known by the acronym ORTOP, is part of the Frank Pais International Orthopedic Complex in Havana, where doctors perform about 6000 surgical procedures every year on patients from the island and neighbouring countries.

"About 30% of the surgery we do requires bone tissues," says Dr. Manuel Jacas, Manager of the Tissue Bank. "We´re fortunate to have facilities to supply them." He says many patients face the prospect of disfigurement or loss of a limb, and that tissue banks are vital health care facilities for them.

The IAEA´s role has supported efforts in Cuba and other developing countries to ensure that tissues are contamination-free and meet medical standards. The process used is called radiation sterilization, which is already widely used to disinfect many types of medical products and hospital supplies worldwide. Pre-packaged materials are sterilized through exposure to controlled doses of gamma radiation. In Cuba´s case, tissues are processed at facilities of the Centre for Nuclear Application Research and Development.

Worldwide, the IAEA has helped establish more than 70 tissue banks in the Asia Pacific, Latin American, and African regions. In Cuba, efforts now are directed at developing a national training center for tissue bank operators, and in promoting greater awareness about the need for, and benefits from, tissue banks.

"Like in many countries, we face the problem of having enough donors for human tissues, bone, and organs," says Dr. Eddy Sanchez, ORTOP´s Technical Director. The Tissue Bank serves all the country´s hospitals, he notes, but not enough tissues are being donated to serve them. Through a national campaign involving a newly established institute for bone transplants, the aim is double the number of donors over the coming years to increase the Bank´s stock.

"Thanks to the IAEA´s support, we´ve been able to install new equipment for tissue analysis, storage, and quality control, and to obtain related training for technicians and other staff," says Dr. Jacas. "So we have the capability and expertise to handle many more tissues. Our goal is to help many more patients than we do now." -- Lothar Wedekind, IAEA Division of Public Information.

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