Making improvements in healthcare a mission
September 23, 2003
MANY Guyanese cheered last week when Health Minister Dr. Leslie Ramsammy disclosed that four hospitals are going to be built or rehabilitated in the next five years.
Their reaction was natural.
Successive governments have chalked up billions of dollars in accumulated spending to evolve the country's health sector into a patient-friendly service that is accessible, of affordable cost, and of acceptable quality.
So learning that healthcare delivery is reaching higher heights was incredible news.
Much, indeed, has been accomplished over the years. Today, healthcare spending accounts for about 9 percent of the nation's annual budget.
Of that amount, $1.2 billion has been earmarked in 2003 for a comprehensive nutrition programme - promoting breast-feeding among lactating mothers of babies up to six months' old, training for primary healthcare workers, and a food coupon scheme for lactating Moms from particularly poor homes.
$600 million is being spent to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis, $370 million on the construction of an in-patient ward and the purchase of medical equipment for the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation, and another $145 million on the acquisition of medical equipment and instruments for hospitals, health centers/health posts in West Demerara, Bartica, Pomeroon, Timehri, Bamboo Creek and Morashee.
But for all these investments, Guyana's medical institutions are still some distance away from being surgery capable in many areas.
The Ministry of Health operates a programme that provides part of the cost of acquiring treatment overseas - Canada, the United States and Trinidad and Tobago - and Kids First Fund, a non-governmental organization managed by First Lady Varshnie Jagdeo, organizes fundraisers to send acutely ill patients abroad for surgery and treatment.
Kids First Fund has a mounting file of requests - 200 to date - for financial assistance for surgeries outside of Guyana.
The irony here is that while the country's public and private sectors are investing billions in healthcare delivery, Guyanese outpatients are spending millions on increasingly prevalent surgeries and recuperative treatments abroad.
Our decision makers and healthcare providers ought to see the continuation of this situation as unacceptable.
The Guyanese medical system as we know it must evolve into one that meets the healthcare needs of those Guyanese for whom overseas treatment is necessary.
The need is for Guyana to adapt to a system that is accessible - enabling people to receive care in Guyana whenever they want it; that is affordable - meaning it must not be cost prohibitive to low-income outpatients; and that has perceived quality, that is, its capability can be measured by high-tech, state-of-the-art machinery and equipment.
The big challenge for the Ministry of Health and private medical institutions, then, is for them to address the "surgical" constraints to modern healthcare delivery as a priority, frontburner mission.
Modernizing our healthcare system is going to cost a lot of money. But it's an investment we dare not delay much longer. Healthcare must be balanced with other needs, including food, shelter, and other social services that have a direct impact on healthcare cost. But resource allocation is simply imperative.
We eagerly look forward to the day in the not-too-distant future when hundreds, if not thousands, of complex surgeries are performed in Guyana each year by top quality, state-certified surgeons.
This implies that our hospitals must be equipped with Operating Rooms housing advanced surgical equipment, which is utilized by an outstanding surgical staff to perform many types of procedures - neurosurgery, vascular surgery, gynecological surgery, prostatic seedings for prostate cancer, orthopedic surgery, plastic surgery, you name it.
The real challenge is for our leaders to promote change and facilitate the building of one of the best healthcare systems in the Caribbean.