Some 93 Costa Ricans returned home late last week after undergoing free eye surgery in Venezuela, a gift from President Hugo Chávez’s government.
The Venezuelan Embassy in Costa Rica is now expanding the program, “Operation Miracle,” which has treated some 800 Ticos and thousands of other Latin Americans since October 2005.
About 88 percent of Costa Ricans are insured under the state’s socialized health-care system, the Caja, but long waits for appointments drive some Ticos to seek other options.
“The lines are very long, and there aren’t enough ophthalmologists” at the Caja, said Fernando Sandí, who works for the Caja as a nurse but still opted for surgery in Venezuela.
Under Operation Miracle, Venezuelan doctors travel to Costa Rica to examine Ticos with eye trouble. Patients with cataracts or pterygium, a benign growth on the eye, qualify for treatment.
The Venezuelan government pays for the airfare, the surgery, housing and food during the patients’ 10-day stay in Venezuela. Ticos need only pay the $26 tax that Costa Rican airport authorities charge for leaving the country.
In past months, Venezuelan doctors have performed exams only at the ambassador’s house in San José and at Alunasa, a Venezuelan-owned aluminum processing plant in the Pacific slope town of Esparza.
But in June, doctors visited other parts of the country, including rural areas and some indigenous communities.
“The embassy’s new policy is to go to all of Costa Rica – not make people come here” to San José, said Eduardo Medina, who works on Operation Miracle at the embassy. “We are going to cover all of Costa Rica, from north to south and east to west.”
The new outreach efforts have attracted more Ticos to the program. Two Venezuelan state planes are set to transport 186 Tico patients to Venezuela in July – more than twice the usual monthly number.