As the world observed World Tuberculosis Day (WTD) on Thursday, Public Health Minister Dr George Norton has underscored the importance of strengthening regional tuberculosis (TB) services.
He was at the time speaking at the commissioning ceremony for a new building for the West Demerara TB Chest Clinic and a refurbished TB Step-Down Care Facility.
Junior Public Health Minister, Dr Karen Cummings and Programme Manager of the National Tuberculosis Programme, Dr Jeetendra Mohanlall cutting the ribbon at the ceremonial commissioning of the new West Demerara TB Clinic as Public Health Minister, Dr George Norton; Chief Medical Officer, Dr Shamdeo Persaud; Director of Regional Health Services, Dr Kay Shako and Regional Health Officer, Dr Shawn Bancroft look on
With the support of the Region Three (Essequibo Islands-West Demerara) Administration, the West Demerara TB Chest Clinic acquired the new building while the TB Step-Down Care facility was refurbished with support from the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) Guyana. This inpatient facility has a capacity of 20 beds along with two isolation rooms and would be utilised for inpatient management, mainly for TB patients who are infectious, homeless or have complications.
The architectural layout included improved ventilation so as to decrease the transmission of the TB bacteria. Infection control standards are adhered to in the design, with the necessary remodelling done to suit such a facility. With this new building, clinics will now be held from Monday to Friday, as opposed to twice per month, which was the case previously.
Addressing the gathering, Dr Norton said that these efforts were undertaken with the aim of enhancing the TB services offered nationally. The Minister noted that the transformation of the Ministry of Public Health away from its central top-down governing role could only take place at the pace of the development of the regional and local capacities.
“For the time being, central level actors may only gradually be able to focus on their core functions and a lot is needed to maintain supervision at the regional level. There is a dire need to establish regional TB programmes and for them to take ownership of TB control activities in their respective regions. The process has started, but more needs to be done in terms of improving coordination and boosting communication with the key stakeholders,” the Minister highlighted.
According to Dr Norton, TB patients are being managed at sites within their respective regions, but he recognised the need for more political commitment at the regional level and also dedicated personnel to perform TB related activities in order to improve accessibility and sustain services. He pointed out that with the influx of newly-trained medical doctors, some of whom were assigned to the hinterland regions on a longer stint of services, it creates an opportunity for more doctors to be involved in TB management. This, he added, will in turn increase accessibility to services nationwide.
The Public Health Minister outlined that while TB was on the decline in Guyana, there was no room for complacency. On this note, the Minister implores Guyanese to support the efforts of the National Tuberculosis Programme (NTP) towards reducing the effects of Tuberculosis. One of the most strategic mechanisms for combating this disease is to ensure that all citizens are educated about TB and are involved in this fight against TB.
Moreover, Dr Norton noted that while it was the aim of his Ministry to provide improved health care services to those infected and affected by TB, it was even more beneficial to implement preventative measures where diseases such as TB were concerned.
The Minister further remarked that one of the health targets in the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that Guyana wished to achieve was ending the TB epidemic by 2030. To this end, a total budget of $139,716,000 has been allocated this year to combat the disease.
“Guyana is waging a strong battle against this public health threat, but this can only be successful with the involvement of all health care providers and the public at large. Taking cognisance of this, the Ministry of Public Health, Guyana joins the global community in the fight against Tuberculosis and we will be able to accomplish this year’s World TB Day theme of UNITE TO END TB!!! Together we will make it happen,” Dr Norton declared optimistically.
For generations, TB has manifested itself as a major public health threat. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 9.6 million persons fell ill with TB and 1.5 million died from this disease in 2014. Over 95 per cent of deaths related to TB occur in low- and middle-income countries and it is among the top five causes of death for women aged 15 to 44.
Persons infected with TB bacteria have a 10 per cent lifetime risk of falling ill with the TB disease. However, persons with compromised immune systems, such as people living with HIV, malnutrition or diabetes, or people who use tobacco, have a much higher risk of falling ill.
Children are also greatly affected by this disease, and in 2014, an estimated one million children became ill with TB resulting in a mortality rate of 140, 000 children.