Mental health, infectious diseases priorities in 2007 health plan
Stabroek News
January 6, 2007

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The Ministry of Health is placing heightened focus on mental health, building a strong surveillance system for infectious diseases and raising life expectancy among other things as part of its work plan for 2007.

And the new Health Promotion and Protection Bill which is to be introduced this year will address specific issues relating to the environment with a focus on solid waste, noise nuisance, air pollution and medical waste.

Outlining the ministry's work plan for the year yesterday, Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy said a major aspect of the plan is the mental health component. To date, a mental health policy has been agreed and a Mental Health Unit will be established at the ministry sometime this year.

He said the current referral mental health programmes at the Georgetown Public Hospital and the National Psychiatric Hospital at Berbice will be upgraded.

"The objective is to integrate mental health into the primary health care system and strengthen the referral process," Ramsammy told reporters.

Among some of the new initiatives to come on stream is a National Suicide Prevention Committee, which has already been established but will be launched in February. Suicide is a serious health issue and concerns have been raised over its high incidence in areas across the country.

A Women's Health Unit will also be established in the ministry in another few months and will focus on a number of issues affecting women. Ramsammy said issues such as cervical cancer, human papilloma virus testing and vaccination, and safe motherhood will be addressed.

Ramsammy said this unit will work closely with the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the recently established Women and Gender Equality Commission given the prevalence of domestic violence, particularly as it relates to sexual abuse and women's health.

The ministry also intends to forge greater collaboration with the ministries of Home Affairs and Human Services and Social Security to tackle the issues regarding homeless people.

"A multi-sectoral approach is needed to address the problem and that is the approach we are taking. The rehabilitation of the homeless population will be expanded and we will conduct mental as well as medical evaluation among this category of persons," Ramsammy said.

On the issue of noise nuisance the minister said this will be aggressively pursued and the ministry will collaborate with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Bureau of Standards.

Since several diseases which affect persons locally are caused by worms, including lymphatic filariasis, he said the ministry will introduce a national de-worming programme that would entail the free distribution of Albendazole (used for treating infections caused by tapeworms) to households.

Priority consideration will be given to the reconstruction of the Skeldon Hospital and the National Psychiatric Hospital this year and construction will soon begin on the Georgetown Public Hospital in-patient building.

Construction will also begin on the new Public Health Laboratory in the first quarter of the year while there are plans to have the West Demerara Regional Hospital rehabilitated.

Some of the other initiatives outlined for 2007 include improving life expectancy; reduction of maternal, neo-natal and under-five mortality; typhoid elimination; the impregnated bed net programme to reduce dengue and filaria.

Ramsammy pointed out that many of the initiatives for 2007 will be implemented through regional health programmes.

(Iana Seales)