Health concerns over influx of migrants “understandable” – Public Health Ministry

Health concerns being raised by a number of persons in light of the large influx of migrants in the country are warranted but presently there are no indications that there is a threat to the public health sector.
This is according to the Public Health Ministry’s Public Relations Officer (PRO), Terrence Esseboom, who told Guyana Times on Saturday that although there is nothing to panic about in relation to the large numbers of Haitians and other migrants here, the Ministry will continue to take preventative measures to ensure that citizens in Guyana are protected from any potential health threats.
“As far as I know, there has been no outbreak of anything among Haitians but I understand people’s concerns. I could understand that,” Esseboom said during an interview with this publication.
He explained that in the case of Venezuelan immigrants flocking Guyana over the past year, certain precautionary methods had to be implemented, since the majority of those Venezuelans were entering Guyana without clinic cards or necessary health documents.
“So from the abundance of caution they were given vaccinations. Simply because if they came with their clinic cards there would have been nothing. So to safeguard them and the communities in which they live, there was vaccinations given to most of them,” Esseboom stated.
According to the PRO, just recently, the Health Ministry put the country on high alert about the Ebola disease, following the outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) which claimed the lives of almost 2000 persons inclusive of health workers.
“Because people can contract it, because of the speed of travel, so what we did was just caution that we should be on the alert. So, it is not that we are preventing people from coming, or that we are fearful that there is going to be an imminent outbreak of anything, nothing of the sort. But you cannot just take things for granted.” Over the past week, reports revealed that thousands of Haitians have entered the country through the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA), where provisions were made for them to acquire accommodation at hotels and other boarding houses predominantly within Georgetown.
In March of this year, the coalition Government ordered an automatic six month stay for Haitians entering Guyana.
Under the Immigration Act, Chapter 14:02, amendments were made to “allow Haitian nationals to be entitled to an automatic stay of six months”. The amendment was made by Legal Affairs Minister Basil Williams.
This change in the immigration policy came on the heels of the unaccountability of thousands of Haitians in Guyana. Over 8600 Haitians entered Guyana from January to June 2019 but only a small number has departed.
This is not the first time issues of public health has been raised over the influx of migrants. Earlier this year, Indigenous leaders from Amerindian communities called for stricter security in border communities as the influx of migrants has resulted in an increase in health and security issues in their villages.
Some of the alarming issues have been identified as the prevalence of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and increase in criminal activities and were raised on March 4, 2019 during the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) 10th Annual General Assembly.
These concerns were voiced by APA’s unit representatives particularly for Arau and Kaikan Villages, in Region Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni), who pleaded for the situation to be taken under control immediately by the Government.
Likewise, in Region One (Barima-Waini), Regional Chairman, Brentnol Ashley had continuously voiced concerns about the strain that the migrants placed on the health system in that region.

Additionally, Mabaruma Mayor Henry Smith had also warned of a health crisis in Region One given the large number of Venezuelans that had migrated to the area.
The unaccounted figures for thousands of immigrants entering Guyana and failing to leave have led the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) to call out Government on a smuggling racket, which it has failed to address.
The PPP said that it believes that there is a massive people-smuggling racket and inaction cannot be the order of the day. “This is an issue that was raised a year ago and the APNU/AFC coalition has refused to address it,” the party said in a statement.
According to the party, the more recent exposés – detailing the arrival of over 8600 Haitians in the last seven months – have focused on one group of foreign nationals, but the issue at hand involves other nationals, including Cubans. This may just be the tip of the iceberg.
Concerns were also raised about reports that foreign nationals are being issued with Guyanese documents, allowing them to be registered as eligible Guyanese voters in the ongoing House-to-House Registration.