New fund to provide medical assistance to needy children

Stabroek News
April 10, 2000

A non-governmental organisation Kids First Fund formed to provide emergency medical assistance for poor and needy children was yesterday launched. Donations at the launching totalled some $1.5 million in cash and pledges.

In addition a 25-year-old rum manufactured by Demerara Distillers Limited and donated to the fund by business magnate Yesu Persaud was auctioned off for the sum of US$500.

The New Thriving Restaurant on Main Street hosted the breakfast as a contribution to the launching of the fund.

The organisation of which First Lady Varshnie Jagdeo is patron, also received pledges from a number of business entities to assist in whatever way possible such as airlifts from rural and hinterland areas for children where necessary by Trans Guyana Aviation Limited and a free surgery per month with all costs borne by the Prasad's Hospital Limited.

The nine-member committee is headed by chairman, Dawn Murray with vice chairman being Phoolkumarie Coopsammy; secretary, Rakesh Panday; treasurer, Lokenauth Seemangal; medical consultant, Dr Hardat Persaud; legal consultants Ramesh Persaud and Narendra Singh; special adviser David King and; fund-raising coordinator Paula James.

In an address, Mrs Jagdeo whose brainchild the organisation was, said that the society came into being because persons with extremely sick children were finding it difficult and in some cases impossible to access funds for urgent treatment.

Though the fund was launched yesterday and the committee set up on February 11, some 20 children have already been assisted since Mrs Jagdeo began her voluntary work in 1997 on her return to Guyana. Though modest about the part she played, she said that she began doing legwork and asking for reduced airfares for children of poor families because they are the lot "that always bothers me". Poor people, she said, do not have access to resources, to adequate health care and generally they lack access to vital social services across the board.

The fund was given a shot in the arm earlier this year when she went to Murray , Area Manager for BWIA, begging for a ticket for a patient, Vijai Narine to travel to Trinidad for brain tumour surgery. Apart from providing two return tickets compliments of BWIA, Murray, now the chairman of the fund worked along with Mrs Jagdeo to spearhead the formation of the committee and the establishment of the fund. Meanwhile, the surgery was successful and Narine has since travelled back to Trinidad for follow up care. She said that the Ministry of Health has a backlog of about 5,000 cases and until recently had very little money with which to help needy children. While government has provided US$200M, surgeries cost thousands of US dollars. She gave the example of consultation for a neurosurgery case costing US$2,500 and the actual surgery US$11,500.

In addition, the bureaucracy is time consuming. "Although the staff at the ministry is very cooperative, it is very difficult to get a swift response", she said adding that this "is not what an anxious parent wants to hear when a child needs lifesaving surgery". Kids First Fund aims to satisfy that need, she said.

Because of the backlog, by the time funds are available some of the cases become inoperable and surgery would be of no benefit. She illustrated the case of a child with hydocephalus (water in the brain) which is an urgent case. Yet children with this condition have been waiting for a very long period.

The NGO plans to raise money by hosting a number of fund-raising activities locally and canvassing for donations here and overseas.

An account for the fund has been opened at the New Building Society, 1 Avenue of the Republic and the account number is S&P7332.

The fund's secretariat is temporarily located at the residence of the building contractor Brian Tiwari at 182 Quamina Street, South Cummingsburg, Georgetown who volunteered office space for the new NGO. The e-mail address is The Guyana Post Office Corporation has also pitched in and provided the fund with PO box number 101522.

Thanking the owners of the New Thriving Restaurant for the donation of the breakfast, Mrs Jagdeo said that donations need not be monetary but could be in the form of medicines, medical supplies and access to resources.

The committee is responsible for vetting the cases in accordance with the fund's selection criteria. That is, the child must not be older than 18 years and every case before the fund is subject to a medical examination by the relevant specialist.

The fund, she said, has doctors in every field of medicine who have agreed to examine patients at no cost.

Based on her experiences over the past three years in trying to help children gain the medical attention they need, Mrs Jagdeo said that she has also discovered that some of the cases referred overseas by some doctors and specialists from other countries who hold clinics in Guyana, could be treated here. A few orthopaedic cases have been done locally since. "Why refer cases outside of the country when they could be done here and at a cheaper cost", she asked. The majority of cases referred out of the country are for neurosurgery and cardiac surgery. (Miranda La Rose)