Advances in the health sector of Guyana (Part 2)

Dear Editor,
The most critically-ill patients, rich or poor, find themselves at GPHC. For any patient with a poor prognosis, the GPHC is their only destination. Not all the relevant staff is available at GPHC, nor is all the technology. Increasingly, however, the most specialised staff in Guyana is available at the GPHC. More than 90% of the specialised staff at the private hospitals are GPHC staff. Every new intervention introduced in Guyana has been introduced at GPHC first. We readily concede weaknesses, and are working towards reducing and eliminating them. But there are things that we can also boast about. It is young Guyanese doctors, many from poor family connections, who are blazing the trail.
Investments are being made to improve equipment and technology at the GPHC. Soon, minimally invasive surgery (MIS) would dominate the surgical space at GPHC. Very soon, lithotripsy (laser) treatment for kidney stones would be available. Already digital imaging (X-Rays, fluoroscopy, CT) is routine, and because these have been installed with PAC systems, the GPHC is able to provide other hospitals with teleradiology services. More than 25 patients receive free cardiology interventions such as angiograms, stents, valve replacements etc. every month. No single team anywhere in Caricom performs more cardiac interventions than the GPHC team. The transplant unit is the most active in Caricom. Now requests for kidney transplants are coming from Caricom citizens. Thus, it is not all gloom and doom.
While a policy on MRI is still to be made, the GPHC procure MRI services from the Private Sector. The Public-Private mix is a policy direction Guyana began some time ago. The PPP Government has announced that the Public-Private mix for delivery of healthcare is a policy it wants to promote more aggressively. Working with professionals from the diaspora and with international partners, many new, high-quality interventions are being pursued. For example, Guyana is putting together, with Guyanese professionals in the US, a urogynecology programme to reduce and eliminate the backlog of cases of women living with incontinence. People flocking outreaches conducted by both local and international teams is not a measure of the quality of services the healthcare system delivers. Some of us have also participated in outreaches in Queens, Bronx, Harlem, and those outreaches are several times larger than the ones in Guyana. There is no need to surmise anything from this observation.
The MoH is presently engaged in standardising the operation of medical schools and other private schools to train healthcare professionals. Between 2015 and 2020, the private medical schools openly operated in a “Wild West” scenario. We are presently correcting this scandalous situation. The GPHC established the Institute for Health and Science Education in 2006. It presently operates sixteen post-graduate programmes, working alongside UG and many of the top universities in the US and Canada. Together with UG and partners in Caricom and the US, there is a growing research capacity that is being built. In fact, the GPHC would be ranked above the vast majority of Caricom hospitals when it comes to research. Private universities and research centres are welcome to join.
As far as medical tourism is concerned, way back in 2010, Guyana signed an agreement with the EXIM Bank and an Indian company to construct and operate a specialty hospital that would have reduced the need for any Guyanese to travel abroad, and that would have brought people to Guyana for specialised care. Construction started in 2014. The previous Government terminated the contract and ended the move to build a specialty hospital and pursue the medical tourism strategy. We are happy to see that, outside of the PPP Government, there are Guyanese both in Guyana and in the diaspora who support medical tourism strategy. It was a horrible misstep on the part of the previous Government to terminate that project. It is too bad that many chose to remain silent when that project was terminated. Today, at least four specialised private hospitals are being constructed, and they will make medical tourism a part of their marketing. At the end of the day, finding staff will be critical. Presently, a Human Resource for Health strategy is being drafted, and the public will soon be engaged in the outlines of a new Health HR strategy.
The Public Health Sector in Guyana is a work in progress. It has imperfections, and we expect to be held accountable for those imperfections. We also hope that attention would be paid to the significant progress that has been made. There are reasons why the maternal and infant mortalities are down, why fewer persons are dying from cardiac conditions before 65 years old, and why persons with end-stage renal diseases are living longer. The GoG is determined to ensure that Guyana has one of the best healthcare services in the region, sooner rather than later.

Dr Leslie Ramsammy