MoH to tackle substance abuse, addiction as new mental health programme launched

The Health Ministry recently launched the Mental Health and Psychosocial Wellbeing and Development of Children and Adolescents Programme in Guyana with heavy emphasis on addiction and substance abuse.
The new programme is being executed through a collaborative effort from the Pan American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).
It aims to address and break the inter-generational cycle of poor mental health and transform mental health outcomes in Guyana for both current and future generations.

A section of the gathering at the launch

During the launch on Friday, subject Minister, Dr Frank Anthony underscored, “Substance abuse, alcohol abuse, we want to do a lot more work in this area. Right now, if somebody needs to get some help, there are basically two NGOs that offer that type of help. That is the Salvation Army and Phoenix Recovery. That is not good enough because we’re seeing more and more cases of people who need this kind of help. Therefore, one component of this programme is really to look at addiction and how we can prevent addiction from happening.”

Health Minister, Dr Frank Anthony at the launch

Dr Anthony noted that the Ministry is working on establishing a comprehensive national strategy to combat mental health in Guyana and it is not being handled in a piecemeal way.
“While we implement the new legislation, we want to have a comprehensive national strategy on mental health to make sure that what is captured in the law, we now have in our mental health strategy. So, one of the core principles we want to look at is the deinstitutionalising of patients who have been institutionalised…We also want to make sure that mental health services are integrated with primary healthcare and that we have preventative centres for these patients since they will need a safe place for counselling,” he explained.

Deputy Representative of UNICEF Guyana and Suriname, Irfan Akhtar addressing the gathering

In addition, he reiterated that very soon the project for the billing of an Electronic Health Record system will be launched, making it easier to have a handle on statistics and health trends on a national level.
“We are launching very soon a project whereby we want to bill out an electronic health record system. The idea behind this is that every person who would have an interface with the public health system when they come to us will have a unique identifier and their patient data will be collected. If the patients go to a hospital in Berbice, Essequibo or even Linden, the same system will be used. So you don’t have to go to one place and then bring your physical record to Georgetown for them to see,” the Minister added.
To protect a patient’s data and information, with the establishment of the EHR systems, a National Data Prevention Act has been established.
“Now because we’ve been collecting data in such a manner, we want to prevent data breaches and so we’ve passed legislation called the National Data Protection Act and in this, if someone takes someone’s personal information and leaks it or uses it in a very irresponsible way, then that person starting fine would be GY$20M, while an institution that does the breech, starting fine will be GY$100M,” he highlighted.
The seven regional hospitals will have accommodation to house acute psychiatric patients.
Deputy Representative of UNICEF Guyana and Suriname, Irfan Akhtar highlighted that this programme is in keeping with one of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The Mental Health Protection and Promotion Bill 2022 was passed in the National Assembly on August 8 of this year. Enshrined in the law is a series of rights for mental health patients, including access to care.
The Act provides for the mental healthcare of persons suffering from mental illness and protects, promotes and fulfils the rights of those persons during the delivery of mental healthcare. Additionally, it seeks to promote the mental health and well-being of persons in Guyana and to ensure that all persons receive the best mental healthcare.