By Raimundo Urrechaga
HAVANA, Aug. 7 (Xinhua) -- Luis Navarro is a young Cuban who at 34 years of age already suffers from chronic diabetes for the past 23 years. Recently, several ulcers have appeared on his foot, putting it at risk of being amputated.
However, this has not happened, thanks to a unique Cuban product Heberprot-P, a drug that has sparked acclaim for its effectiveness in controlling and healing diabetic foot ulcers.
A few weeks ago, Navarro was admitted at Havana's Institute of Angiology and Vascular Surgery, a medical institution where comprehensive treatment is given to patients suffering from chronic diabetes.
"I had a big wound on my foot and it was pretty bad. The doctors applied Heberprot-P and I could see the substantial improvement in just 20 days. Since then I was discharged and my ulcer is almost closed," the man told Xinhua.
This drug registered in 2006 was created by Cuban scientist Jorge Berlanga and a team from the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology of the island.
It contains epithermal growth factor (EGF) as an active pharmaceutical ingredient, while being applied by direct infiltration or injections in the wound site closing the ulcers in a period of 45 to 90 days.
"The change with this drug is incredible. Heberprot-P has been the best product invented by Cuban scientists. Whoever lives with this disease knows that foot ulcers improve a lot with this treatment," added Navarro.
In 2001, when Heberprot-P clinical trials began at this medical institution, Dr. Jose Fernandez Montequin was one of the first to apply the treatment to Cuban patients.
According to Montequin, before local scientists created the drug, there were high rates of amputations in the Cuban diabetic population.
"With the application of this medication, we were able to reduce amputation rates in the country from 70 percent to 5 percent today," he told Xinhua.
In 2016, out of about 35,000 Cuban patients with diabetic foot ulcers, only 480 amputations were performed.
"We have improved the quality of life of patients and especially mortality. Patients who manage to close ulcers and avoid amputations survive four more years on average than those who do not," said Montequin.
Another benefit of Heberprot-P, according to the expert, is that its application drastically reduces the resurgence of ulcers to just 5 percent of patients treated.
Following its implementation in more than 450 clinics in the island, Cuban doctors and scientists have provided guidance and recommendations on the product in more than 20 countries, including Russia, Kuwait, Algeria, Argentina, Ecuador, China and Venezuela.
Currently, Heberprot-P is registered in 23 countries and is effectively applied in 10 countries that have already authorized its use and marketing.
"Our product has already been used on more than 60,000 patients in Cuba and around 250,000 patients worldwide, capable of preventing more than 70 percent of amputations," said Montequin.
Scientists on the island now hope to see the drug used in China, which currently has the largest population of diabetics in the world.
Heberprot-P is currently undergoing clinical trials in China for its future use and marketing to diabetic patients.
Meanwhile, the Havana Institute of Angiology and Vascular Surgery uses it every day to treat dozens of patients.
"In Cuba, budgets for the treatment of diabetic foot ulcers have decreased due to the drug's emergence. In 2006, we had more than 40 beds dedicated to diabetic foot ulcers, now we only have 28," said Montequin.
According to the expert, a patient who has an extremity amputated costs the state about 65,000 U.S. dollars annually. Before the appearance of Heberprot-P, treating an ulcer could cost about 45,000 U.S. dollars per patient.
"Direct and indirect costs to the Cuban health system have been reduced with the Heberprot-P national program," he said.
On June 30, the Cuban health ministry celebrated the 10th anniversary of the national diabetic foot ulcer program and its treatment with Heberprot-P.