Minister within the Ministry of Public Health, Dr. Karen Cummings today, defended the budgetary allocations for the Ministry of Public Health as the budget debates continued in the National Assembly.
The health sector has been allocated $31.2B or 12.5 percent of the $250 Billion, 2017 Budget. The allocation is to prioritise focus mainly on achieving universal coverage for health care. A number of areas have been identified as the Ministry of Public Health takes robust action in meeting this goal in 2017.
Minister within the Ministry of Public Health, Dr. Karen Cummings
Minister Cummings said that, “There can be no productivity without resiliency; there can be no preventative medicine without preventative policies and practices that deliver better quality than stir up strife.”
The importance of policy drafting and implementation in the health sector will also contribute to the good health of all Guyanese.
Minister Cummings’ presentation was cenetred on the improvement of health care in all its sub – sectors with specificity on combating suicide, tackling poor maternal child health, eliminating Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), and mental health among others.
“We are determined to get along, we will stand strong to right the wrong, we will stand back to attack the lack and we will stand tall and give the call, that this government under the leadership of the good Finance Minister and the President, David Arthur Granger, will spread the quality of life to one and all,”Minister Cummings said.
The minister pointed out that Guyanese can expect better health services through departments and agencies responsible for these services under the Ministry of Public Health such as the Regional Health Services (RHS) and the National Public Health Reference Laboratory (NPHRL).
Through the RHS, the ministry has already commenced an initiative which allows for specialist doctors to be sent to certain regions to treat with particular illnesses.
This initiative, Minister Cummings explained, will be upgraded significantly in 2017 as particular focus will be placed on providing specialists in the fields of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Dental and Mental health, Paediatrics, Internal Medicine and General Surgery. Specialists have already been deployed while others will be deployed to Regions One, Seven, Eight and Nine.
Opposition Member of Parliament, Dr. Frank Anthony
The NPHRL will also be engaged in a programme which will strengthen its Quality Management System (QMS), enabling the entity to provide better quality laboratory services. This will be done with the aim of achieving International Organisation of Standards, ISO 15189 accreditation. “With our national Reference Lab properly accredited, Guyana would no longer have to depend heavily on foreign testing which at this moment is an expensive dependence.”
In the area of Maternal and Child Health, the provision of enhanced health care in this sub-sector will be piloted through a US$8M project that will contribute significantly to reducing maternal, perinatal and neonatal deaths.
The Mental Health Unit has been set up and is the first of its kind in Guyana. This saw 250 mental health care and health workers being trained to effectively deal with mental health issues.
Minister Cummings noted that, “Often times, there is the tendency to think of the money spent by the government on hospitals and schools as a cost. I urge persons who think that way to rethink and reshape their perspectives. When government spends money on the development of the public health care sector or on education, those are long -term investments that accrue dividends to the economy and the society over time.”
The health sector budget captures the intention of the public health ministry which is to ensure that Guyanese are among the healthiest in the Caribbean by 2020, in keeping with the health vision 2020. NCDs, and drug procurement also remain high on the government’s agenda for 2017.
Of the proposed figure, $2B has been set aside for improving infrastructure within the Public Health Sector in all 10 regions. Specific health care facilities will be transformed to better accommodate all persons in respective communities including the differently- abled. Health facilities at the district level along with living quarters will be further upgraded to attract the best medical personnel required to roll out medical services in areas such as Baramita, Mahdia, Port Kaituma, Kamarang, Bartica and Annai.
Opposition Member of Parliament, Dr. Bheri Ramsarran
Opposition Member of Parliament, Dr. Bheri Ramsarran noted that the public health sector could have been much more developed with investments made in the upgrades of the Diamond Diagnostic Centre rather than spending $1B on the D’Urban Park project.
“The construction of a large in- patient block at the East Bank of Demerara Regional Hospital or Diamond hospital is long overdue; this was under active consideration by the Cabinet health sub-committee of the last PPP/C Cabinet,” he said.
Ramsarran regards the Diamond Diagnostic Centre as a gem, and one of the achievements of the PPPC/C administration in the health sector. He added that this budget now stymies momentum generated in the health sector under the PPP/C.
“The huge sum, some say $1B spent on the D’Urban Park extravagance would have better been spent on this key health infrastructure. It would have not only addressed immediate health needs, but would have been a wealth creator by healing and putting back to the active work force, tens of thousands of Guyanese over the foreseeable future,” Dr. Ramsarran pointed out.
Meanwhile opposition MP, Dr. Frank Anthony placed much emphasis on Guyanese having to pay Value Added Tax (VAT) on health care. “One of the most grievous issues in this budget is the 14 percent VAT on medicines and medical services. What does this mean? Medicines and health services which were previously zero rated will now attract VAT, medical services including those provided by a qualified medical practitioner would now attract 14 percent VAT, obviously when persons go to a private practitioner the consultation fee will probably go up by 14 percent,” MP Anthony said.
However, Guyanese across the country continue to access free health care services through the public health system in the 10 administrative regions while some surgery costs are subsidised by the Government.