Health Ministry to focus on improving life expectancy By Shirley Thomas
Guyana Chronicle
January 6, 2007

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HIGH on the list of priorities for the Ministry of Health this year will be improving life expectancy and reducing mortalities, as it seeks to expand and embolden strategies to improve health generally, Minister Dr. Leslie Ramsammy said yesterday.

At a press conference at the ministry on health sector plans for this year, he said the number one priority to improve life expectancy will be to focus on:

* reducing maternal mortality (death) rate

* reducing neonatal, infant and under-5 mortality rate

* reducing HIV/AIDS mortality rate and

* reducing intentional and accidental rates such as death through motor vehicular accidents and suicide

While the view in some quarters is that the quality of after-care following delivery of babies can influence maternal death rate in one way or another, Ramsammy feels the lateness with which women join ante-natal clinics or access maternal care is responsible for many of the deaths recorded.

He, however, noted that in 2006 there were no recorded maternal deaths in Region Six (East Berbice/Corentyne), at least.

The Health Minister said it is recommended that women access maternal care prior to 12 weeks of pregnancy, whereas many do so long after the stipulated 12 weeks.

Another area to seriously engage the attention of the Health Ministry this year will be reducing morbidity the number of people living with (rather than dying) from a particular chronic disease.

This is so, particularly as it relates to chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, malaria, tuberculosis, HIV and cancer, among others.

Ramsammy said even though the ministry was able to achieve considerable success during 2006 in drastically reducing the prevalence of malaria at the national level, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases and cancer continued to cause some concern.

In the case of diabetes, there are some 30,000 persons currently living in Guyana with the disease and that number is being increased by about 12,000 each year, he said.

Also, Ramsammy said, some worrying trends have been noted in relation to HIV and tuberculosis (an HIV opportunistic infection).

It has been established that the life expectancy of persons with HIV-TB is drastically reduced, compared to persons having one of these diseases independent of the other, he said.

Those illnesses will also receive greater attention in the year ahead, the minister said.

Meanwhile, an all out campaign will be waged against risk factors known to have significantly reduced life expectancy.

Those identified and listed to be brought into the dragnet are: tobacco smoking; alcohol consumption; substance abuse; improper nutrition and lack of exercise; overweight and obesity; reduction of risks for leptospirosis and rabies and risky sexual practices.

Other priority areas for the ministry this year include: environmental health to be more aggressively pursued.

Ramsammy said a new Health Promotion and Health Protection Bill will address specific issues relating to the environment. Areas of focus include: solid waste and medical waste disposal; noise nuisance and air pollution.

And touching on laboratory management, the Health Minister said a national minimum package for Laboratory Services at each level of care has been drafted and will be introduced in the first quarter of the year.

This, he said, is expected to guide the development of laboratory services at each health institution.

Ramsammy said the regulations to establish standards for medical laboratories will be introduced as soon as the Health Facilities Licensing Bill is passed.

He said the Health Professionals Bill will seek to regulate the practice and conduct of medical laboratories around the country.

One requirement for medical laboratory scientists will be for continuing education in order to maintain licensing, he said.