President Dr. Irfaan Ali has vowed to transform the health sector into a world-class system. VP Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo has articulated a revolutionary vision, and a redefinition of a world-leading primary healthcare system firmly based on equity, built around maternal and child health, and comprehensive healthcare access for remote and hinterland communities.
During his debate presentation on Budget 2024, Health Minister Dr. Frank Anthony posited that the health sector is on the verge of this healthcare revolution. With an allocation of $129.8B in Budget 2024, the PPP Government is walking the talk of this revolutionary, transformative health agenda.
Among the programmes that Budget 2024 supports in the transformative agenda are the next-generation cardiology diagnostic and treatment services slated for GPHC, adding more services to those introduced in 2006 by the PPP. Outside GPHC, the Maternal and Paediatric Hospital would be commissioned in 2025, and would establish a much-needed paediatric cardiology service targeting the elimination of waiting time and the need to travel overseas for paediatric heart surgery.
Budget 2024 also caters for the construction of a Level 5 hospital in New Amsterdam, and that is slated to be completed by 2026, and would add a third advanced cardiology centre for heart disease diagnosis and intervention.
In 2006, the Bharrat Jagdeo-led PPP Government established Guyana’s first cardiology centre, offering open heart surgery and other cardiology interventions; such as angiography, angiograms, stent insertion and valve replacements. At the time, it was possible only with an international team led by Guyanese cardiac surgeon Dr. Gary Stevens. Today, most of the interventions are done by Guyanese doctors practising in the public sector.
Now, under the Irfaan Ali-led PPP Government, Budget 2024 provides for the next stage, ensuring open-heart surgery is completed entirely by local teams of surgeons. This will bring Guyana on par with, or above the standard of, other Caricom countries, and set the stage for approaching the levels in the US by 2030.
A revolution in imaging diagnostics was initiated in 2020 after the Irfaan Ali Government was sworn-in, building on the vision that was first articulated in 2001 under the Bharrat Jagdeo-led PPP Government. In 2001, the PPP Government encouraged the private sector to bring in CTs and MRIs to permit Guyana to go beyond the simple X-rays. Now the Government is proceeding to add on-site CTs and MRIs in the public sector. Adding to the capacity at GPHC, Linden and New Amsterdam, CTs will be available by quarter 1, 2025 in six regional hospitals: Anna Regina, De Kinderen, Diamond, Enmore, Bath and #75; and by quarter 1, 2026, in Moruka, Kamarang, Kato, Lethem and Linden. MRIs will be located at GPHC, the Maternal and Pediatric Hospital, and New Amsterdam Hospital.
Budget 2024 provides for adding another 12 digital X-rays to the 5 digital X-rays that were installed through Budget 2023. These will permit X-ray images to be viewed virtually, improving diagnostics, and getting rid of the cumbersome X-ray film viewers and processors. To complete the package, new and better ultrasounds are being deployed in every hospital.
A revolution in cancer diagnosis and treatment is about to become visible in Guyana. Budget 2024 provides for the operationalization (February 4) of Guyana’s digital pathology lab at GPHC. The new digital pathology diagnostic lab will enable partnering with colleagues in the US, including Mount Sinai, Cuba, China, India, Canada, the UK, Brazil, Argentina and the Caribbean, by using digital health technology that is far more advanced than any in Caricom at this time. Almost every kind of pathology diagnostics, including cancer and transplant diagnostics, would be at our fingertips with this new lab. By 2025, Guyana will be the leading pathology centre in this Region. Budget 2024 sets the stage for this pathology revolution.
With the pathology lab in place, a new generation of cancer treatment now becomes possible, starting with chemotherapy. Budget 2024 caters for new medicines and new chemotherapy centres outside of GPHC: in New Amsterdam, Suddie and Linden. But Guyana is looking to establish its brachytherapy treatment facility, which would end the requirement of persons having to leave Guyana for cancer treatment.
Budget 2024 also sets the stage to consolidate our Caricom leadership in transplant medicine, using kidney and corneal (eye) transplants as the hub. The Government’s vision includes setting up Caricom’s first eye bank. Cadaver kidney and liver transplants are on the agenda for 2024, led by wholly Guyanese teams. Neurology and neurosurgery, revolutionary orthopedic surgeries, revolutionary vision and dental care are all scheduled to reach new heights.
But with an eye towards equity, new hospitals with modern operating theatres, CTs, dialysis centres, modern clinical pathology labs, ICUs, CCUs, NICUs and other critical care facilities would be opened up in hinterland communities. Budget 2024 provides for new hospitals in the hinterland, including upgrades of Mabaruma, Linden, Kwakwani and Mahdia. Indeed, the PPP is looking at the total modernization and reconstruction of the health infrastructure, including a modern new GPHC and the upgrading of all health centres.
The Government’s strategy includes improving quality and expanding equity through telemedicine and digital health. Budget 2024 proposes to add another 50 locations. In addition, Guyana’s first electronic medical record (EMR) system would be commissioned in 2024. Along with digital capacities for imagining and pathology diagnostics, Guyana would boast of having the most advanced digital health capacity in Caricom as early as the end of 2024.
Surgical capacity is being improved with 30 new operating rooms across Guyana by 2026, with dedicated Caesarian-Section and laparoscopic ORs allowing minimally invasive surgery. This is just a glimpse of the health revolution, barely telling the story of a brave new world for health in our country. Although not told in this column, Budget 2024 provides for a new kind of health workforce.
Guyana is on the road to a health revolution. Given that Guyana was at the very bottom in Caricom in 1990, this is a remarkable story.