Management upped but behaviour towards pandemic still an issue

- Health Minister says on ‘COVID Anniversary’

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One year after Guyana recorded its first COVID-19 case and death, and one year after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 situation to be a pandemic, Minister of Health, Dr Frank Anthony is satisfied with the improved management efforts locally but said that more needs to be done to effect positive behaviour changes.

Reflecting on the year of COVID-19 in Guyana, on Thursday, the Health Minister contended that the country has made significant strides, moving from a state of unpreparedness to where it is today. He recalled that when the first patient, 52-year-old Ratna Baboolall, first visited the hospital, the health system did not instantly recognise that she was infected with the novel coronavirus. Furthermore, he said that sufficient mechanisms were not yet in place to treat the disease.

“Unfortunately, that first patient died and at the same time, a lot of our healthcare workers were exposed, about 30 of them had to go into quarantine to be monitored to make sure that they did not have COVID,” Dr Anthony related, adding: “We then had to put things in place but it took a while before we could build a response.”

Following that first case, Guyana, like the rest of the world, grappled with a rapidly evolving pandemic. Schools, businesses and borders were closed. And, information on the disease grew more expansive by the hour. Guyana, uniquely, was faced with its protracted electoral process which only came to an end in August.

Minister of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony [October 21, 2020]
“When we [PPP/C] took over in August, there were lots of things that still needed to be done, including testing. We weren’t testing enough and if we weren’t testing enough then we really can’t understand the magnitude of the pandemic in our country,” Dr Anthony highlighted.

Resultantly, one of his first areas of focus, upon assuming his portfolio, was to ensure that Guyana could increase the number of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests it was doing daily. Nowadays, the National Public Health Reference Laboratory is capable of conducting 2,000 tests per day.

Additionally, approval was granted for Eureka Medical laboratories, a private establishment, to perform these tests. Recently, another facility, the Coastal Diagnostics, has been granted approval too.

He also highlighted that hospital capacity has improved, allowing the local health system to manage more COVID-19 patients better. Improving this capacity involved procuring more beds and medical equipment such as ventilators and monitors. This also included increasing the local Intensive Care Unit (ICU) capacity, to isolate and treat those patients with the more severe forms of the virus.

Boosting the local hospital capacity, he said, would not be complete without training health care workers.

“From a medical response, I think we’ve gone leaps and bounds with what we’re doing to manage COVID patients,” he affirmed.

The minister noted that the overall management of the pandemic extends to the government’s efforts at placing disposable income into the hands of citizens through the $25,000 COVID-19 relief cash grants and the efforts made to allow people to return to their livelihoods safely.

One bugbear, however, has been people’s behaviours and attitudes towards the pandemic.

“While we would’ve had some success with mask-wearing, we still see others who have been using the masks inappropriately, so they have it on their face but they’re not covering their nose and mouth,” Dr Anthony lamented.

Covering your nose and mouth with a face-mask, along with constant sanitisation and social distancing, have been some of the proven non-pharmaceutical interventions that have helped to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

Yet, Dr Anthony noted that many persons have not been adhering to guidelines instituted. Looking ahead, he said that this is one area that requires specific focus, even if it means belabouring the point. Another key area of focus will be to ensure that the country is able to acquire enough vaccines to ensure that the population is vaccinated against the virus. The aim, he reminded, is to have the country achieve herd immunity, which means that transmission of the virus will be stagnated thereby protecting citizens.

“I would say overall we have ramped up the responses in various ways and I think today we are much more wiser of COVID-19 than we were one year ago and I think people are much informed,” the Health Minister contended.

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