Over the past month, several families have initiated legal proceedings against three local hospitals, claiming that their negligence resulted in maternal and neonatal deaths and in two instances resulted in injuries to newborn babies.
Following several of these occurrences we have heard Health Minister Dr George Norton announce that investigations were launched to determine culpability.
As a matter of fact in one instance the Minister announced that those responsible could face criminal charges if it were concluded the injuries sustained to a newborn was as a result of negligence by hospital staff. It is commendable the Health Minister is taking such a firm stance on the issue.
In January 2015, the United Nations Development Programme report on Guyana’s progress on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with respect to maternal health in Guyana, stated that the country has succeeded in reducing the number of maternal deaths and increasing the availability of skilled health personnel at births. The report also commended Guyana for the increase in antenatal care coverage.
As a matter of fact Guyana is currently assessed as having the potential to meet the MDG target of reducing the maternal mortality ratio by three-quarters. According to the World Health Organization in developing countries nearly half of all mothers and newborns do not receive skilled care during and immediately after birth. As such, the report by UNDP shows that as a country we have made significant progress with respect to our maternal healthcare system.
However, the recent incidences of mothers suffering as a result of reported negligence by hospital staff is very disappointing.
According to media reports, Sumarie Balwant of Good Hope, East Coast Demerara, lost her baby following claims that nurses at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) refused to deliver the baby, saying she was not ready.
In another instance, GPHC is being sued by Pholmattie Ramjattan whose baby suffered injuries after a nurse allegedly dropped the newborn onto the ground.
In yet another instance, lawsuit against the Davis Memorial Hospital is pending after a 33-year-old mother and her newborn child died allegedly at the hands of negligent nurses and hospital staff.
Adding to this, Parbatee Ramdat of Reliance Village, Essequibo Coast, Region Two is in the process of taking legal action against the Suddie Public Hospital after her newborn baby suffered a fractured shoulder and hand during delivery.
Therefore, while it is commendable that our Health Minister is taking a firm stance with respect to culpability and responsibility, the fact that families are still suffering at as a result of alleged negligence is still unacceptable. We need to examine within the Healthcare System what are the deficiencies and address these as quickly as possible.
Guyana’s maternal health record is very good, as a nation we have come a far way with respect to our maternal health care. As such the Health Minister should ensure he carries that baton of improved maternal health.
The key priority in maternal health is the improvement of the quality of care offered by the healthcare team, including nurses and obstetricians. As such the task is now left to Dr George Norton to ensure there are increased availability of specialist staff trained in obstetrics and gynaecology and wider geographic coverage of skilled medical staff.
There is no doubt he is capable but it is time he has a tight rein on the healthcare staff in Guyana so as to ensure we do not go backwards on our already good maternal healthcare records.
Many countries in the world have already passed tobacco control legislation and many more are in the process of doing so. In essence, these countries have recognised the need to have this crucial legislation in place aimed at protecting their citizens from the harmful effects of tobacco use.
Just a few days ago, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) Regional Adviser on Tobacco Control, Dr Adrianna Blanco was quoted in the media as saying that there is no reason to justify why tobacco control legislation has not yet been tabled in Guyana’s Parliament. Blanco, like many of us here, is of the view that passing tobacco control legislation should be a top priority for this country considering the number of persons dying from various causes as a result of tobacco use.
Tobacco is a deadly product that kills millions of people every year, and most of its victims are from low- and middle-income countries. The World Health Organisation (WHO) uses the term “global tobacco epidemic” to describe the deadly effects and the high number of persons dying from tobacco use. It says that every year more than six million people die of preventable diseases caused by direct tobacco use and exposure to second-hand smoke. These statistics are indeed worrying and should cause all stakeholders, including both Government and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to recommit themselves to taking the necessary action needed to protect citizens.
There are quite a few interventions which the authorities here may wish to consider in addressing this problem; these include ensuring that the tobacco control legislation is passed in the Parliament without any further delay. Guyana cannot afford to lag in terms of the legislative requirements needed to tackle this issue holistically.
The Tobacco Control Bill fulfils requirements laid out in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The legislation is intended to protect present and future generations from the “devastating harms” of tobacco use, exposure to tobacco smoke and specifically to prevent tobacco use among youths. The legislation would also seek to ensure that the public is protected from the commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry, while preventing the illicit trade in tobacco products.
There is also need for mass public education campaigns which could be used as an important vehicle for changing public attitudes regarding tobacco and tobacco control. Mandatory aggressive, well-funded counter-advertising campaigns, using multiple messages maintained over a long period of time for example as in the states of California and Massachusetts in the USA; in Ecuador, Malaysia, Peru and Romania have been shown to contribute significantly to reduced tobacco use in youth and overall tobacco consumption. Legislation in this regard ensures a binding obligation on the public authority and ensures permanence of public educational programmes for tobacco control.
Additionally, a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship is at the core of effective tobacco control legislation and programmes generally. A comprehensive ban involves a ban on all forms of direct and indirect advertisements, promotion and sponsorship.
Further, price and tax measures are an important and effective means of reducing tobacco consumption, especially among young people. Raising taxes, and hence the price of cigarettes and other tobacco products, has a double advantage: it not only generates revenue for Government, but has proven to be effective in reducing tobacco use, particularly among young people and low-income groups.
There are many more effective mechanisms for tobacco control which policymakers and other stakeholders here could capitalise on. There are also many success stories and good practices from leading tobacco control countries such as Russia, Australia, India, Iran, Brazil, USA, etc. which we could learn from.
There is no doubt that we could be successful in the fight to ensure that the numbers of persons dying as a result of the harmful effects of tobacco use or being exposed to second-hand smoking is significantly reduced. However, as a start, it is necessary for all stakeholders to cooperate and coordinate their actions in a more efficient and effective manner. The lobbying by the various groups could begin with pressing the Administration to ensure the tobacco control legislation is passed without any further delay.
“Social Cohesion” seemingly dropped fully grown from the brow of President David Granger in the launching of his APNU/AFC Cabinet appointments, when Guyanese woke up to discover that they now had a “Ministry of Social Cohesion”. The State had always been tasked with creating “the good life” for its citizens – as the Government’s first budget was to explicitly state – and had distributed what it considered to be the necessary components to achieve that state into “Ministries”. “Social Cohesion”, it would now appear, would be one of the specific components.
In the years preceding the elections, whether as individual parties or the precursor A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) coalition of “10 parties” or from the “multiethnic” Alliance For Change (AFC), there was not a single mention of “Social Cohesion” in terms of a policy aspiration or as a programmatic initiative. Even after the launching of the Ministry or its convening of a “National Roundtable on Social Cohesion” most citizens – and even the Ministers of the Government – would be hard pressed to explain precisely what “social cohesion” is all about, beyond some nebulous notion derived from the word, “cohesion”, that “we should come together as a society”.
At Independence, the People’s National Congress (PNC), in coalition with the United Force, had selected as our “National Motto” the aspiration for us to become “One People, One Nation, One Destiny”. Some thought that the present Government was conceding that divisions in the society have not been bridged much less eradicated as the PNC had previously boasted. There would now be a new effort towards that elusive goal of “One People”.
In conceding divisions in Guyanese society were very salient and presumably a barrier to the good life that the State was mandated to deliver, there would still remain the question as to which of the myriad cleavages, including race, ethnicity, class, colour, location, etc, would be prioritised for addressing or whether there was a “one shoe to fit all approach”. And this once again raises the issue of exactly what is “social cohesion” and is it in fact confined to the dimension of social cleavages.
On investigating the term, one discovers that “Social Cohesion” as a specific goal of the State was an evident recent epiphany of the European Union as it grappled with the challenges of melding a continental collection of States into a cohesive unit and simultaneously within each State to deal with new immigrants who brought with them new cultures and world views. Specifically at the inter and intra State levels, it was grappling with two problematics to what it considered to be a “cohesive” unit – the absorption of the new Eastern, formerly communist bloc and the increase in the gap between the rich and the poor.
In adopting the programme of “Social Cohesion” from the EU into Guyana; therefore, the Government is repeating the insistence of the early leaders of the country to import unadapted ideologies and programmes from a Europe that is confronting issues that by definition cannot be identical with our local reality. The “independence” generation imported several flavours of European Marxism none of which took root but left lasting effects.
The foreign fixes slit and destroyed our society and economy as the leaders insisted on forcing our unique Guyanese contingencies on the Procrustean European bed. For instance, they chased out our fledgling business class by denouncing and persecuting them as the “comprador bourgeoisie”. It would appear that the present Government wants to go one better than the past rulers to impose their unadapted “ism” on the populace: then, there was at least a prolonged debate on the suitability of Marxism for the country.
With “Social Cohesion”, the Government owes it to the Guyanese people to first circulate its formulation widely for discussion and comment by the people. It can then be debated in Parliament. This was done for the constitutional changes of 2000, and this new goal of the entire society that will now inform even the Constitution deserve no less a public scrutiny and approval.
Womenfolk across the world are slowly becoming an endangered species as they continue to face crisis after crisis stemming from various forms of victimisation, abuse and marginalisation mostly at the behest of their male counterparts.
Research shows that 35 per cent of women and girls globally experience some form of physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime with up to 7 in 10 women facing this abuse in some countries.
Facts available on the United Nations website also indicate that an estimated 133 million girls and women have experienced some form of female genital mutilation/cutting in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where the harmful practice is most common.
Also, worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children; 250 million of them were married before the age of 15. Girls who marry before the age of 18 are less likely to complete their education and more likely to experience domestic violence and complications in childbirth.
Added to that roughly half of today’s 60 million forcibly displaced people are women. Many who flee war and violence are often exploited by unscrupulous smugglers, and frequently suffer gender discrimination and xenophobia in host societies.
This is a worrying trend and could be considered a permanent assault on the right of women to lead free, independent and meaningful lives while contributing positively to their own existence and that of their wider families as well as communities.
While other countries within the Caribbean appear to be developing worthwhile campaigns and successful policies aimed at stemming the tide of violence against women, the momentum in Guyana is on the decline and little effort is being made over the last six months to secure more gains in this respect.
As result, womenfolk here continue to be butchered and brutally murdered at the hands of their reputed husbands and paramours. Almost daily there are reports of sexual, physical and to a lesser extent, political violence against women because of the deliberate choices they have decided to make in one respect or another.
The response of the authorities is appalling in some instances, with the Guyana Police Force coming in for heavy criticism as to how it handles victims of rape, sexual abuse, domestic violence and other forms of physical and emotional abuse. Just recently, there was a 65 per cent increase in reported cases of rape which represented 164 cases.
While this is happening, the new A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance For Change coalition Government appears to be big on talk and small on action.
The new Social Protection Ministers continue to engage in discussions about fighting and ending violence, but have done little to educate the public and Guyanese womenfolk on just what forms and approaches their Government’s new policies and campaigns will take in order to achieve the desired results and create a paradigm shift in the minds of men and the perpetrators of these heinous acts.
Apart from the People’s Progressive Party’s legislative interventions in the forms of the Sexual Offences Act and a series of “Stamp It Out” campaigns and other similar activities, the new Government is failing our womenfolk.
There is still no special fund set up to help abused women or their direct offspring to start anew. There is no holding place established and run by Government to offer counselling, free abode or other specialised services for victims of domestic abuse apart from the help offered by several Non-Governmental Organisations in Guyana.
There is still no public report available on the number of reported instances of domestic violence and abuse against women by administrative region or race presented by the Government and this contributes to the problem as many times officials are ‘speaking with water in their mouths’.
Additionally, the Government needs to make the struggle to end violence against women a political one and it has to start by the signal it sends to its own members who are disrespectful, dismissive or abrasive to women and their involvement at varying levels of society.
The recent incident which saw an APNU/AFC Member of Parliament Charandass Persaud threatening to assault a female Opposition parliamentarian should have never been condoned by the Government. Its morbid response is telling and speaks of the value that it attributes to women especially those on the opposing side.
In short, as this country joins observances to mark International Day of Elimination of Violence against Women, it must take stock of the gains made and the many areas that it is still lagging behind.
The blood of our womenfolk must not be shed and wasted because of various forms of negligence, inaction, lack of political will and poorly administered policies.
Guyana must do all that it can to save our womenfolk and must demonstrate its interest in strengthening them via a series of well-planned Government directed policies aimed at achieving gender equity, equality and nonviolence.
Indeed, it’s a man’s world, but it would surely be nothing without the sacrifices made by our womenfolk who are being slaughtered while the authorities focus their political lenses elsewhere.