Child mortality rate of 300 a year unacceptable
Stabroek News
April 19, 2002

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"Unacceptable", was how Minister of Health, Dr Leslie Ramsammy, described the deaths of approximately 300 children, all under the age of five, who die in Guyana every year from controllable and preventable illnesses.

The minister was at the time delivering the keynote address before participants from across the country, at the opening ceremony of the Second Integrated Management of Childhood Illness (IMCI) Workshop, at the Ocean View Convention Centre on Monday.

The IMCI strategy focuses on the health status of children under five years of age, placing emphasis on care, in the hope of fostering healthy growth and development. The two-week IMCI workshop, which is a collaborative effort of the Ministry of Health, the Pan American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), educates health care delivery personnel in the improvement of care for children in health facilities as well as in the promotion of family and community practices in the health care of children.

Malnutrition, Acute Respiratory Infections (ARI's), Acute Diarrhoeal Diseases and HIV and AIDS were some of the controllable and preventable illnesses to which the minister referred. Recognising what the problems were and doing something about them was possible but not easy, he acknowledged, but a significant dent on the mortality and morbidity rate among children under five was doable. However, he cautioned that the programme would be doomed to failure if the community, but more importantly, parents, failed to get involved. "One of the best investments in the development of the country is the investment in our children," the minister noted, while emphasising that the IMCI was a priority of his ministry. Ramsammy argued that the IMCI was an important part of the emphasis on the development of the child.

During his address, the minister also confronted another area of concern, the neonatal mortality rate. He lamented that the mortality rate at the Georgetown Public Hospital and other health care institutions was too high, and was unacceptable. The neonatal death rate at the Georgetown Public Hospital is 17 per month while there are 20 neonatal deaths for every 1,000 new births.

Meanwhile, PAHO/WHO Representative, Dr Bernadette Theodore-Gandi, while considering the importance of the strategy, also underlined its impact. She said evaluations conducted revealed significant improvements in the quality of care given to children under five years of age. She noted that the strategy was shown effective in improving the knowledge and practices of parents and family members, while there was a rapid decline in the mortality rate of children under five. Dr Gandi noted that in the countries with the greatest levels of success there was a clear demonstration of collaboration and co-ordination at all levels between agencies.

The IMCI strategy, while in development since 1992, was introduced into the Americas by PAHO/WHO in 1996 as the principal strategy for improving child health. In 1999, the 41st Directing Council of PAHO adopted Resolution CD41.R5, which urged member states to adopt and expand implementation of the strategy. By 2001 the strategy was adapted and implemented in 17 countries in the Americas.