Saving Lives in Cuba with Nuclear Cardiology
Cardiac diseases are growing as the leading cause of death around the world. Cuba is no exception. The most frequent type of such diseases is coronary artery disease (CAD) which limits the supply of blood to the heart and may eventually cause a heart attack. To tackle CAD effectively, early and accurate diagnosis is absolutely essential. This is provided through nuclear medicine imaging techniques such as myocardial perfusion imaging (MPI) using single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT).
For more than 20 years, Cuban nuclear cardiologists worked in less than optimal conditions with outdated and inadequate equipment. The field of nuclear medicine overall was not well developed. Cuba, however, has many highly skilled and dedicated doctors and scientists who recognized the need in the field of nuclear cardiology. According to Maurizio Dondi, Head of Nuclear Medicine Section in the IAEA’s programme on Human Health “Cuba has some of the best skilled nuclear cardiologists in the region and it is thanks to their personal commitment that the IAEA activities in Cuba have been very successful with very positive outcomes.”
Through a decade long cooperation with the IAEA, the National Institute of Cardiology and Cardiovascular Surgery in Havana started working on refurbishing its Nuclear Medicine Department. A major step forward came in 2009 with an IAEA technical cooperation project. Dr Amalia Peix, Deputy Director of Research at the Institute told us that “Thanks to this project we received the SPECT gamma camera and we also received the equipment for the hot lab and the treadmill.”
But there are many challenges that remain for the future. Dr Lazaro Omar Cabrera, the Head of Nuclear Medicine at the National Institute of Cardiology and Cardiovascular Surgery identified a need for another gamma camera “We have a lot of patients who need to be assisted here in our department and it is not possible because we only have one gamma camera, and there is a very long list of patients who have to wait for more than a month to be treated or assisted. We need another gamma camera in order to be able to assist these patients.”
Today, Dr Peix and her colleagues are involved in a regional technical cooperation project, dedicated to nuclear cardiology techniques in the diagnostic and follow-up of patients with dilated cardio myopathy, which is very common in Latin America. It is this kind of knowledge exchange and sharing of experiences and opinion among professionals in nuclear cardiology that seems to be the main benefit for Cuba and the region. Workshops and visiting experts help build capacity even further.
Cuban doctors and scientists also take part in several Coordinated Research Projects (CRPs), which bring together colleagues in the field from all parts of the world. A recent CRP Dr Peix has been involved in was related to chest pain in acute setting and the value of nuclear cardiology techniques in managing such patients.
There are about six hospitals with a nuclear medicine department in Havana, and a few in other provinces, for example, in Santiago de Cuba, Camaguey, Villa Clara. They work together, often treating patients from other hospitals. They also organize special scientific meeting to discuss the results of various research projects which finished during the preceding year.