Critical national consultation on malaria under way By Stacey Davidson
Guyana Chronicle
December 13, 2001

A THREE-day national consultation on malaria commenced yesterday at Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel in Georgetown with Health Minister, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy stressing it was imperative for the Government to develop a strategy based on reducing the morbidity and mortality associated with this illness.

"...while we deal with the daunting task of alleviating the problem in malarious areas, we must be resolute in our determination to avoid the real production of malaria in coastal areas where malaria derives", he said.

"We must also be innovative as we expand on the diagnosis and treatment that are presently available throughout Guyana. Effective diagnosis and treatment are important assets of the prevention process..."

He further pointed out that the deliberations on the national strategy for the reduction of malaria in Guyana, organised by the Ministry of Health in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), point to the question of sustainability, especially with a focus on poverty reduction strategy which must be seriously considered.

"Malaria is not just a health problem but a social and economic problem - one (that) represents an important obstacle to sustained economic and social development".

"Malaria represents an important risk factor impediment to Guyana's Poverty Reduction Programme", he added.

Regions that are severely affected by the spread of malaria are One, Two, Seven, Eight, Nine and Ten.

Further, the Health Minister pointed out that this disease contributes to poverty by hampering the productive capacities of individuals and communities.

"It overwhelms the health sector's capacity to respond to people's health needs", he stated.

More than $400M was expended on malaria in Guyana, which is about 80 per cent of the national health budget, he said.

Ramsammy said the ministry's ability to control this illness is inextricably linked to its capacity to control the vector programme, which he described as an important challenge in the fight against malaria.

He added that malaria is considered the second most infectious cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide.

"It is estimated 300 to 500 million new cases of malaria are reported, of which more than 90 per cent occurs in tropical Africa every year, which causes 1.5 to 3.7 million deaths annually, and 550 million are affected in the Americas."

The Health Minister pointed out that between 5 to 8 per cent of mortality in Guyana in 1998 is caused by malaria, but this figure has been reduced in 1999 and 2000.

Commissioner of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), Mr. Robeson Benn pointed out that 30 per cent of miners are affected by malaria.

"We have to be able to work together with the various agencies in order to prevent the problem of malaria", he stressed.

This consultation, he said, signals a new and important meeting.

"One of the complaints we had in the mining (sector) is that in the remote areas, the impact and the interfacing with the miners are not as good".

"And I believe now, some of the miners (think) that they could take their own measures to deal with the problem of malaria", Benn added.

"The miners could be termed in some ways (to be) vectors for the spread of malaria - in that the nature of the activity, the fact that (they) move from south to south, the fact that (they) may work for a few months and then return to the community means that (they are) open to the spread of the disease".

During a recent visit to mining camps, along with Prime Minister Sam Hinds, Benn said the team was very impressed with the measures being taken to control malaria, and steps are being taken to get all the camps with the maximum of 10 persons living in one to have these screened, and to make available mosquito nets for them.

He said GGMC welcomes this opportunity for the consultation, and is hopeful that the measures taken will be able to benefit personnel "because we are seriously affected".

"Some 30 per cent or more of our officers (are being affected by) malaria regularly, and we would like to learn more to reduce the amount of loss time we have relating to malaria and be able to have a situation which would allow the rate of productivity (to increase) in the industry as a whole", he said.

Dr. Bernadette Theodore-Gandi, PAHO/WHO Representative in Guyana, stated that all the stakeholders involved need to take immediate and decisive action to combat malaria. She said with the roll-back initiative which was launched by the Director General of the World Health Organisation in 1998, with assistance from the World Bank, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), United States Agency for Development (USAID) and other agencies, malaria cases reduced worldwide by 20 times.

"The initiative proved to be an effective mechanism, it demonstrated (that) collaborative approach is essential", she noted.

She gave the assurance that PAHO would continue to provide technical cooperation to enable countries to help themselves and in turn assist each other.

"In Guyana and all other countries where there is a problem, we are convinced that intersectoral collaboration at the local, regional and international levels focus on the same goal of rolling back malaria - (the) most effective strategy".

"This is why we are working with the Ministry of Health to ensure all the stakeholders at all levels are invited to this seminar".

She said at the conclusion of the consultation, it is expected that there will be strategies for malaria including diagnosis and treatment, research and needs assessment, training, vector control and all other components of a holistic and coordinated approach.

They also hope to identify a method and time frame for integrating malaria control into the health system, and a community partnership that will create the environment that will be able to support the roll-back malaria initiative in Guyana, she said.