Taking caring a step forward Consumer Concerns By
Eileen Cox
Stabroek News
February 3, 2002

Our society is becoming a 'caring society.' School children - and others - assist the elderly across busy streets. Of course, there are exceptions. A cashier at Dependants Pension Fund (DPF) was an exception. She refused to give her attention to an octogenarian who appealed for quick assistance as she was feeling ill. Instead, she ordered the octogenarian to sit and wait while she paid pensions to younger and healthier pensioners. The octogenarian had no alternative but to sit and endure her illness.

If the recommendations of the Guyana Consumers Association are taken seriously by the Ministry of Finance, cashiers and others at the DPF may have second thoughts about how they treat the pensioners. It is being recommended that the DPF be closed and the pension fund be transferred to the National Insurance Scheme while the mortgages be given to the New Building Society. Most of these pensioners are elderly folk. Time is moving on. The meagre pensions are, in some cases, less than the cost of transportation to and from the DPF building.

A caring society is a progressive society. It illustrates a bond of friendship. Consumers are looking out for each other and becoming a community. There are some areas in dire need of community help. The quicker a start is made, the better.

We can look at three areas where families now need urgent assistance - cocaine addiction, schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease. In Canada there are private half-way homes subsidised by the government for schizophrenic patients. In England there are homes for Alzheimer patients.

In Guyana the time is opportune for communal action for assistance in all three areas. The Canje Hospital for mental patients and drug addicts is a major castastrophe, but plans are in place for improvements. Nevertheless, without vast increases in salaries paid to the attendants, the institution will remain a place of despair.

In the case of Alzheimer's disease, there is no government assistance. The family has the burden of coping with a patient who is non compos mentis part of the time or all the time. There has to be an attendant 24 hours of the day. One can imagine how costly this is for persons of limited income. A home where such patients could stay part of the time or all the time is fast becoming a need.

In the case of cocaine addicts, the family is on the brink of disaster every day, 24 hours a day. There is the problem of theft from neighbours or friends. The family income is in jeopardy and family members cannot contribute to society as they should. They live under severe stress.

The schizophrenic patient is in a slightly better position. Millions of people are affected worldwide but most of them respond well to treatment. The problem is to find the treatment that is suitable to each individual. Again, some families do not recognise the disease. Some will not accept mental illness in their relatives. They shout "Obeah." Somebody done him/her harm.

The disease is said to have a hereditary component and, as far as I know, there is no way to avoid it. Some B vitamins are recommended as part of the treatment. However, ignorance prevents families from seeking help in the early stages. Some persons refuse to understand mental illness. They think that the patient is wilfully aggressive.

Many schizophrenic persons, with the right treatment lead normal lives. But there are a few who break down at intervals and their families are in dire distress. The patient can threaten violence at some stages of the disease. No prolonged treatment is available at the public hospital unless a Court Order is obtained. Therefore the patient who becomes ill at a weekend or on a public holiday is at risk. A permanent cure is not possible and the patient is obliged to be under medication at all times.

It is easy to see the benefits to be derived from a half-way home for schizophrenic patients and drug addicts who are under medical treatment. Therapy can be made available and the atmosphere in the home can be conducive to stable behavioural patterns. Such homes could be privately run with a limited subsidy from the government.

Plans are now on foot to start such a home. This will take our 'caring' activities a big step forward. Let us wish the scheme success.