Ministry to buy AZT to fight HIV

Stabroek News
April 14, 2000

The Ministry of Health will be procuring supplies of a costly drug to fight the mother-to-child transmission of the HIV virus.

This was revealed in Parliament on Tuesday by Health Minister Henry Jeffrey during the consideration of budget estimates by the Committee of Supply.

Opposition members continued to grill government ministers about the use of contract employees and Dr Jeffrey admitted that the issue "has been a long and difficult one". He noted that after continuous calls for more labour officers, the ministry had hired some 23 under contract. At present the Ministry of Health and Labour has 103 employees under contract--the only category to increase with other technical and craft skilled staff decreasing from 467 in 1999 to 155 in 2000.

Dr Jeffrey put most of the declines to the corporatisation of the Georgetown Public Hospital (GPH). He answered queries about the budget for drugs which is estimated at close to $800 million for this year by saying it was part of a programme to halt any shortage of drugs. The disease control sector has been allocated $117 million and this reflects the ministry's commitment to fighting malaria and yellow fever. Also the ministry will be purchasing a quantity of the costly drug AZT to fight the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV). This will be used to prevent mother to child transmission of the disease.

Dunstan Barrow of the PNC expressed the hope that the pharmacy bond in Kingston would finally be repaired, given that it holds on average $400 million worth of drugs but is "a vessel not fit to live in" with its leaking roof.

Dr Jeffrey also revealed that the Cabinet has recently agreed to the setting up of a Cancer centre. The GPH came in for some scrutiny with Dr Dalgleish Joseph of the PNC citing a report that related to problems with the testing facilities. He asked whether the minister could pledge that monies would be allocated for the purchase of new equipment. Dr Jeffrey said that in the Capital Expenditure there should be some money for that. As a new corporation the GPH would still be obligated to release staff to the provincial hospitals, Dr Jeffrey noted. But he said that a contractual arrangement would be worked out where the hospital will be compensated for the training the staff receives. He also said that the cost per meal for a patient was $82 or $300 per day.

Moses Nagamootoo was questioned intensively as head of the Ministry of Information. Most of this centred around the Guyana Television Broadcasting Corporation (GTV) and the government's continued subvention. Nagamootoo said it had been predicted a few years earlier that GTV would be making a profit, but what with the protests when GTV staffers were attacked and a camera taken into Congress Place... This explanation was not well received by the PNC members. Nagamootoo said the $15 million budgeted for this year was in part for the two new substations in Berbice and Essequibo and for a new digital system which would bring GTV up to international standards.

Lance Carberry of the PNC said he had "much difficulty with [the] evasiveness" of the minister and asked for a break down of the GTV allocation. Nagamootoo obliged and reeled off to the nearest dollar the prices of all the equipment for the station.