Community Health Workers programme celebrates silver anniversary
Guyana Chronicle
December 11, 2003

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As Community Health Workers in Guyana celebrate 25 years of training and service, particularly to rural and hinterland communities, another batch of Health Workers is about to be assigned to various Regions of the country.

Last Saturday, 49 persons graduated as Community Health Workers during a ceremony conducted at the Training Complex of the Kumaka District Hospital, Moruka, Region One, (Barima/Waini). Kumaka is viewed as the host of the Community Health Workers training programme, which commenced in 1978.

During Saturday’s graduation ceremony, four resource persons, who have been attached to the programme from the time it was introduced by the Ministry of Health, were presented with tokens of appreciation for their dedication and long service.

This year, training commenced in September 2003 with a total of 49 participants on roll. Thirty-nine of them were drawn from Region Two (Pomeroon/Supenaam); Region Three (West Demerara/Essequibo Islands); Region Four (Demerara/Mahaica); Region Seven (Cuyuni/Mazaruni); Region Eight (Potaro/Siparuni); Region Nine (Upper Essequibo/Upper Takutu); and Region Ten Upper (Demerara/Berbice).

The other candidates were selected from Region One communities.

Medex, Mr Wilton Benn, who conducted the training programme, explained that this particular group was trained to meet certain existing needs. One of the reasons was to replace those Community Health Workers, who have reached the age of retirement and those who have moved on to other professional areas of training.

The training efforts are also aimed at providing extended services to vulnerable communities that require it. Additionally, Benn said, the Community Health Workers Programme is also committed to providing support for the tuberculosis programme in Guyana.

Training was done in eight modules, Benn informed the gathering, which included Minister of Health, Dr Leslie Ramsammy. The first module had to do with the topic, Introduction to Health. This section of the training paid particular attention to key issues on the concept of health and wellness; community health; mapping and profiling the organisation of the health services in Guyana and a number of other core issues that served to set the stage for other aspects of the teaching exercise.

Other modules dealt with personal hygiene and environmental health, nutrition, nursing procedures, and maternal and child health. Maternal and child health represents the key component of the training, Benn pointed out.

There were other areas of concern including chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.

Greater attention was paid to the effects of HIV/AIDS and malaria, and also on the integrated management of childhood illnesses.

In his presentation, Health Minister Dr. Ramsammy suggested that two more modules be added to the training programme. They are -- testing for HIV/AIDS and malaria.

Other health officials at the event welcomed this suggestion, and they assured the Minister that they would implement his suggestion at the earliest opportunity.

Dr. Ramsammy also announced that from the beginning of January 2004, Community Health Workers would receive uniform allowances.

Although this allowance may not be at the same levels enjoyed by members of the local nursing profession, the announcement was accepted as another step forward for health operatives in the Regions.

The Health Minister described the Community Health Workers programme as a “highly successful” initiative and one that has contributed significantly to the development of Guyanese.

He told the graduands that the community health care they provide is a fundamental and basic human right. He noted that although the workers are volunteers, the recipients of health services must not be led to believe they are receiving charity.

“Community Health Workers in the country are the first to defend our health in the community,” he told the successful candidates. He pointed out that if health problems are tackled at the community level, this action could significantly reduce huge expenditure that could be used to address other health issues.

For the year 2002 the Ministry of Health spent $12M transporting the sick and injured from the hinterland to the city for medical treatment. This year some $15M has already been spent in this regard.

Ramsammy stated that these sums of cash could have been put to other use, and he implored the graduands to take their tasks as Community Health Workers as a serious responsibility.

He reflected that a few years ago, 88 per cent of the inmates at the Amerindian Hostel on Princes Street, Georgetown constituted Baramita, (Region/One) residents, who had been referred to Georgetown for medical attention.

Today, the Minister reported, this figure has dropped significantly and this is as a result of the training and proactive work carried out by Community Health Workers in that part of the country.

Since the programme commenced 25 years ago, some 450 persons have been trained as Community Health Workers. (Jaime Hall)