PAHO flays Public Health Ministry, says Guyana failing in its fight against Tobacco use

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By Bibi Khatoon

Country Representative of the Pan American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO) Dr William Adu-Krow has taken a harsh stance against the Public Health Ministry accusing it of failing in its fight against Tobacco use in the country.

Dr Adu-Krow pointed out that even though the National Tobacco Act was passed in the National Assembly on July 27, 2017, the Government has failed to implement it even though it can significantly reduce the spread of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).

“The thing is there are lots of challenges and we are not implementing the tenets as they should be…along those route, I think we are failing. We definitely need to do more,” Dr Adu-Krow said during an event to commemorate World No Tobacco Day 2020 on Friday at the Guyana Police Force Officers Training Centre.

Dr Adu-Krow pointed out that the absence of the Ministry’s Public Relations Department or the NCD unit at Friday’s event shows there is a lack of commitment to weeding out the use of Tobacco.

He believes the Ministry of Public Health is not serious in its fight against the substance.

“People who have to be working harder than we are, are not. And I am saying this with a clear conscience –here we are, we are talking about World No Tobacco Day and I do not see the Ministry of Public Health’s Non-Communicable Diseases’ staff here and maybe they have another function but we need to be doing more…where is the Ministry’s Public Relations Department?

“…otherwise we will pass laws after laws and get nowhere…I think this is a shame,” a visibly peeved Dr Adu-Krow said.

Present at the event was Attorney-at-law Kesaundra Alves who is a member on the council responsible for advising the Minister and who assists with crafting a national strategy for Tobacco control.

Kesaundra Alves

Alves, who also chairs the Board of the Georgetown Public Hospital, said she agreed with Dr Adu-Krow.

“I do agree with Dr. Adu-Krow that a lot more needs to be done in relation to enforcement. We have a comprehensive piece of legislation if implemented completely, can really fight Tobacco epidemic and a lot more needs to be done,” Alves said.

“…enforcement needs to be ramped up, it is too slow,” she added.

She noted that PAHO has invested in the public education campaign but it is the Ministry which is responsible for the training of Police and Public Health Officers to ensure enforcement of the law.

She said the lack of training is as a result of inadequate funding and human resources.

But this was met with a rebuttal from Dr Adu-Krow who referred to a study on COVID-19 which showed that the majority of young people get their information from social media.

Alves also disclosed that the Ministry received funding from an international agency to enforce the Act just before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The World No Tobacco Day 2020 will be observed on Sunday under the theme: protecting youth from industry manipulation and preventing them from tobacco and nicotine use.

This year, PAHO is using the occasion to emphasize that persons who use Tobacco products at an early age suffer from various Non-Communicable Diseases and are experiencing more severe cases of COVID-19 or any other respiratory illness.

“Smokers are at an increased risk and therefore anything we can do to stop it, we have to ensure we put those activities in train,” Dr Adu-Krow said.

The National Tobacco Act was lauded as one of the most complete tobacco control laws in the Americas by PAHO.

It has several control policies which aim to protect present and future generations from the devastating harms of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke; to prevent tobacco use by minors; to protect workers and the public from exposure to tobacco smoke; to prevent exposure of the public, especially minors, to tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; to enhance public awareness of the hazards of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke; to ensure that every person is provided with effective health warnings about the harms of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke; to regulate the tobacco industry, its products and sales; to protect public health policies from the commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry, and to provide for other related matters.

It was pointed out by media professionals that even though the law is in place, smoking is still noticed at the Courts and public buildings by the same politicians who supported its passage.

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