Mental health programme to undergo extensive transformation

Kaieteur News
December 7, 2006

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Guyana's mental health programme is to undergo extensive transformation with the aim of improving the delivery of care to affected persons.

This is according to Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy who told Kaieteur News that at the moment, a suicide prevention program is being aggressively pursued.

He said a new training program to train mental health professionals is also being introduced.

Additionally, re-construction on the National Psychiatric Hospital in Canje Berbice is to begin shortly in order to provide modern humane services for those persons who need long-term mental health care.

The Psychiatric In-patient Facility at the GPHC will also be moved into a more spacious and comfortable settings. Psychiatric Out-Patient clinics are also soon to be offered at all Regional Hospitals and at some large health centres in order to bring services closer to people.

According to the Minister, a comprehensive substance abuse program will be included in these services. Assistance to deal with addiction to alcohol and tobacco would be introduced.

The Minister said further, a community mental health plan that will enable families to provide greater support to family members stricken by mental health, is being formulated.

The mental health improvements are part of a series of initiatives being undertaken in the health sector with the aim of transforming it.

Other areas targeted for improvement are the diagnostic services and the National Public Health Laboratory.

At the moment, Guyana sends many clinical tests abroad to be done but the capacity is being built for many more tests to be done locally. A state-of-the-art public health laboratory is also being established that will be equal to or better than any such lab in CARICOM.

The Minister assured that improved laboratory services will be available at the GPHC and all hospitals in the near future.

“A guaranteed package of laboratory services will be introduced. X-Ray services will be improved throughout the sector. Every hospital will be equipped with X-Ray services. Mammography, CT and MRI services will be introduced in the public sector” Ramsammy said.

The Health Ministry has begun to develop a modern international standard storage facility, with refrigerated capacity and computerized inventory system. The Minister said the new 2007/2008 Essential Drug List will soon be published and it is intended to be reviewed every two years. It will include drugs for cancer, HIV, glaucoma and other diseases.

An Essential Medical Supplies List will also be introduced to ensure that every level of health care is assured of adequate and timely medical supplies.

Meanwhile, the Minister says that the operations of the Food and Drug Analyst Department will be strengthened to ensure safe drugs and food:

“The Guyana FDA will be restructured and better equipped to ensure more tests are done on drugs, food and water to ensure safe drugs, food and water are available in both the public and private sector. We will work with IAST and with the Ministry of Agriculture to ensure cooperation so that we rationalize the testing capacity being develop, the Minister promised.

According to Ramsammy, a unique identifier system in which every citizen will have a means of identification that will permit him or her to go to any public health facility is to be introduced soon.

“Every citizen would have a health card so that wherever they go for health services, health providers would know the citizen's health history. The Ministry of Health will work with the Ministry of Home Affairs to ensure compatibility and that we do not create too many unique identifier systems.” The Minister said.

On the issue of health transport, Ramsammy said Ambulance Authority to improve that service locally is to be established in time for Cricket World Cup 2007. The Ambulance fleet will include boats.

The Medi-Vac services from the hinterland will be extended and a training program for those becoming paramedics for the ambulance service will be introduced.

Acknowledging the need for training to make the various successful the Health Minister said 1,000 doctors, 50 dentists, 200 Medex, 50 dentex, 250 Community Health Workers, 1,200 nurses, 200 midwives, 30 anesthetic nurses, 100 multi-purpose technicians, 50 Rehabilitation Professionals and more than 25 optometrists will be trained within the next five years.

In addition, the post-graduate studies for doctors in surgery, medicine, infectious diseases, ophthalmology and gynaecology and for nurses in anesthesiology, mental health, pediatrics, midwifery, Cardiac Care Unit and Intensive Care Unit Nursing and neurosciences will be expanded .

Through collaboration with the University of Guyana training programs for pharmacists, medical technologists and radiographers will be improved, the Minister assured .

“We will introduce new categories of health workers, such as operation room technicians and community health facilitators. In addition, we will offer advanced public health training for doctors, nurses and other health care professionals to prepare them for management position in the sector” Ramsammy noted

He added that the private sector will be encouraged to continue to provide quality services and some of the critical health services will be purchased from the private sector. This includes the provision of dialysis services.

He assured that a crucial aspect of improvement is the waiting time for surgery. He assured that the current surgical program will be strengthened so that many health burdens, such as cataract, hydrocele, fibroids and other elective surgeries can be completed without long delays.

Meanwhile, a first-class surveillance system with a modernized program has been established in the Ministry of Health in order to rapidly establish outbreaks and to have a sound idea in terms of diseases and their causes in Guyana.

The MOH is working with PAHO/WHO, CDC and CAREC to develop an internationally respected surveillance system.

Noting that information in all aspects of the health sector is important, the Ministry Of Health is in the process of computerizing the health information system.

“Already, we have introduced an information system that is being used in certain out-patient settings, such as the Chest Clinic, the GUM Clinic, the lab, at the NA Family Health Centre, at Linden, at Dorothy Bailey Youth Friendly Health Centre” the Minister said.

The Health Ministry has also begun to develop distant communication technology in order to inform health care workers and to communicate in real time with personnel. The teleconference capacity will allow the Ministry of Health to hold workshops for participants throughout the country where presenters are at one location and participants are at others.

Minister Ramsammy however noted that the challenge will be great in the accomplishment of the plans since the present health sector budget does not allow for the fruition of such an ambitious programme. He is however adamant that he will not be daunted from his plan.

“We have hard work ahead and it will not be easy. The challenges are great. The present financing arrangements for the health sector will not guarantee the ambitious program I have outlined. No country can sustain through its public sector financing such an ambitious program.”

He also noted that although Government has committed to free public health for a guaranteed package of services, the question is how to permit those who cannot afford those services, such as dialysis, open heart surgery and radiation therapy to access these services. “The Government has committed that no one will be deprived of the services we are developing in our public/private partnerships. Now the challenge is to determine how every Guyanese will have access to these services. We will need to think this through and we will ask everyone for their support.” the Minister said.