Guyana joins global strategy on child mortality

Guyana Chronicle
June 1, 2001

GUYANA has now joined an international programme, launched three years ago, to focus more on illnesses which cause the death of children.

The local launching took place Monday in the Rupununi Room of Hotel Tower in Georgetown, under the sponsorship of the Ministry of Health, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and Pan-American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO).

Billed as the first English `Inter-Country Integrated Management of Childhood Illness (IMCI) training scheme in the Americas, it gathered some 30 senior health visitors, medics, doctors and regional supervisors and health services officers.

The participants are from Regions One (Barima/Waini), Two (Pomeroon/Supenaam), Three (West Demerara/Essequibo Islands), Four (Demerara/Mahaica), Seven (Cuyuni/Mazaruni), Eight (Potaro/Siparuni) and Nine (Upper Takutu/Upper Essequibo).

They are attending extensive lectures and Chief Medical Officer Dr Rudolph Cummings explained that the seven Regions were identified as "priority areas".

He said the personnel on the course are expected to share what they learn with residents and other functionaries of the health system in their respective communities.

PAHO/WHO Representative, Dr Bernadette Theodore-Gandi said the programme looks at the child in a holistic way and is designed to help identify symptoms and manage the patient accurately.

She said most children die because their parents are unable to detect the signs early and take the sick to hospital too late.

"More emphasis is being placed on the preventative approach and community and family care," Theodore-Gandi said.

According to her, the next step will be a drive to educate people countrywide about the various diseases.

The UNICEF delegate, Ms Shreelakshmi Gururaja noted that the workshop is part of a global strategy and has been inaugurated in some 14 countries within the Americas.

Among others present on Monday were Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretary General, Mr Edwin Carrington and special invitees from the sector.

Facilitators for the seminar are Dr Nelson Davila from Ecuador, Guyanese Dr Janice Woolford and Dr Allison Brown-Williams, Dr Dante Figueroa Quintanilla of Peru, Dr Nhamo Gonah of Zimbabwe and Dr E. Ekanem of Nigeria.

Minister of Health, Dr Leslie Ramsammy, speaking on the Monday occasion, declared that infant mortality and morbidity rates in this country are "unacceptable" and said now is the time to embark on a plan which would reduce them.

Giving the feature address, he disclosed that the mortality rate for children under five years of age is approximately 22 per 1,000.

He listed malaria, measles, malnutrition, diarrhoea and respiratory infections as the leading sicknesses, noting that, in some cases, children suffer from a combination of such ailments.

Ramsammy said Guyana has made gradual improvements over the years but acknowledged that more needs to be done.

"It must, therefore, be a priority that Guyana embarks on a programme that accelerates the progress being made. Pursuing a programme to ensure better management of childhood illnesses is an imperative that we cannot escape," he stressed.

The Minister said Guyana has endorsed the United Nations Rights of the Child initiative and will soon establish the Rights of the Child Commission.

Additionally, the Ministry of Health has undertaken reform with the aim of making the sector more "equitable".

Ramsammy said, every year, some 12 million children around the world die before attaining the age of five and many more suffer illnesses.

He agreed that such mortality and morbidity cause great sorrow and have a significant impact on the poverty status in communities worldwide.

"My goal as Minister of Health is that Guyana be compared well to Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago (because) our children deserve such a commitment," Ramsammy said.

He said the international training, begun three years ago, is a "practical approach".

"Already, there are several countries that have embarked on the programme and the results, so far, are encouraging," Ramsammy reported.

He concurred that health programmes like to deal with malaria, nutritional and maternal health care must be upgraded.