Malaria cases drop but infections still critical
- Health Minister reports

Guyana Chronicle
January 1, 2001

HEALTH and Labour Minister, Dr Henry Jeffrey has urged Guyanese that as they eat, drink and be merry in welcoming Year 2001, they should do so in moderation.

He also urged motorists, in a New Year's message, to drive carefully, don't drink and drive and reminded that "Your Health is Your Responsibility".

Reviewing the ministry's activities over the past year, Jeffrey said many interesting events occurred and highlighted the Trade Union Recognition Bill; health reform and malaria and AIDS programmes as four of the most important.

Given the level of resources available, health sectors are judged by their capacity to deal effectively with the major health problems, among them malaria and AIDS, he noted.

Referring to the dreaded HIV/AIDS, the minister pointed out that Guyana is ranked as the third or fourth country in the Caribbean region most affected by the disease.

Statistics show that between 1987 and June 2000, some 1,757 AIDS cases were officially recorded, which according to estimates, represent about 40 per cent of the real figure.

Noting that the National Blood Bank recorded an infection rate of 1.3 per cent in 1997, and 1.1 per cent in November 2000, Jeffrey assured that a national sero prevalence survey that should provide more precise figures, will be completed in the first quarter of 2001.

He said the National Aids Secretariat is now better resourced and has in place a comprehensive three-year plan worth some $450M.

In addition, many national and international stakeholders continue to contribute to an intensive awareness programme, which apart from its use in seeking to curb mother to child transmission, has made affordable anti-retroviral treatment.

And, while efforts are being made to upgrade the testing and counselling infrastructure throughout Guyana, condoms are being distributed free of cost, he noted.

In addition, the government has purchased 300 condom-vending machines to make the products more accessible.

Noting that contrary to belief there is nothing political about the programme, Jeffrey pointed out that the 1997 Occupational Health and Safety Act requires that all work places establish safety committees.

Meanwhile, the Occupational Health and Safety Department has reported widespread enthusiasm for its HIV/AIDS intervention, through the use of the committees, he said.

On the malaria issue, the minister urged all communities in affected regions to cooperate so that malaria can be significantly reduced by 2005.

Noting that the vast majority of malaria infections occur in the hinterland where most Amerindians live, Jeffrey said that if the quality of life of those citizens is to be enhanced and eco-tourism is to take off, the malaria situation must be curbed.

Between 1998 and 1999, malaria cases were reduced from 52,245 to 27,283 representing under 50 per cent, and preliminary results for 2000 have suggested a further decline of between eight and 10 per cent.

Despite this, Jeffrey pointed out that the problem is still critical with infection rates in the hinterland regions averaging 458 per 1,000 population.

He said the local programme needs to overcome some major difficulties, including few sprayable surfaces because of the nature of the habitation of the itinerant population of the regions.

Widespread failure to follow the treatment regime; the fact that the anopheles darlingi mosquito is now living in the forest independent of man, and the particularly problematic access of the hinterland for the malaria programme are others, he said.

Jeffrey, however, noted that a new five-year plan (2001 to 2005), estimated to cost some $310M, is under review.

Other important achievements, the minister recounted were the passing in Parliament of the Trade Union Recognition Bill, after four decades of shattered hopes and putting into operation after almost three years of "patient nurturing", the Trade Union Recognition Board.

The former allows workers if they so desire, to be represented by a union of their choice, while under the latter, no employer can legally prevent trade union representation.

He referred too to fundamental institutional changes taking place in the health sector, including the ministry's gradual removal of itself from the day-to-day operations from the health sector.

He said others were the autonomy that the Public Hospital Georgetown now has in the execution of its policy and the attempt to have the Materials Management system perform the functions of procurement for the entire health sector.

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