Feb 26, 2009 News
By the first day of next month the local Health Ministry will be ensuring that all blood utilised in Guyana is screened for Chagas, according to Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy.
The Minister’s disclosure came yesterday when he presented remarks at the first awareness workshop on Chagas disease which was held at Cara Lodge, Quamina Street, Georgetown.
Several health workers, including those from the Departments of Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Vector Control Services; the National Blood Transfusion Service (NBTS), the National Public Health Laboratory, the Georgetown Public Hospital and those that provide regional health services, attended the workshop yesterday.
The four-day workshop is expected to include intense sessions facilitated by Diagnosis and Treatment Specialist, Dr Alejandro Luquetti and Chagas Disease Specialist, Dr Andrew Miller.
The Health Ministry in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) streamlined the workshop with the aim of raising awareness of the Chagas disease and to emphasise the importance of screening blood in this regard.
Chagas is a tropical parasitic disease which is commonly transmitted to humans and other mammals by an insect vector called Trypanosoma Cruzi.
The disease may also be spread through blood transfusion and organ transplantation, ingestion of food contaminated with parasites, and from a mother to her fetus.
“Today we start a special initiative and I want to make our intention very clear…Chagas disease is present in Guyana, throughout South and Central America, it is present in some Caribbean Countries and it is even present in the southern part of the United States of America,” Minister Ramsammy told the gathering at the workshop.
According to the Minister, it has been said by local public health officials that Chagas is not a public health challenge for Guyana.
However, he asserted that good public health professionals must be able to recognise not only diseases that are obvious but also those that represent a threat.
“There should be no doubt that Chagas is a threat to Guyana and now we have even more reason to believe that it is a serious public heath challenge because in addition to knowing that it is present at our borders we now know that it is present in Guyana. As of this time I believe that we have identified five cases and we know for sure that one of these is an imported case…or someone visiting our country.”
As such Minister Ramsammy noted that it is imperative that the first step in the Ministry’s public health response will be to commence a literacy campaign as it relates to Chagas.
According to him, every citizen has the right to know about Chagas in the same way that they are made aware of HIV/AIDS, malaria and dengue.
“We need to do this for Chagas…Knowledge is power and we cannot expect people to take preventative action if they don’t know. The mistake we make quite often is that we develop literacy around the professionals but our literacy must be all encompassing; it must be both the professionals and the citizens.”
The Minister pointed out that the mission of the Health Ministry is to teach people what they should ask of their health care providers such as if their blood is being screened for Chagas.
According to Chief Medical Officer, Dr Shamdeo Persaud, for many years there was the feeling that Guyana did not have to address the disease, a notion which was deflated when a laboratory diagnosed a case in Region One. Dr Persaud related that based on extensive studies that were done in Suriname it has been deduced that the Chagas parasite can be found predominately in thatch roof homes, the walls of earthen homes and among thick vegetations the likes of Palm trees.
PAHO/WHO Country Representative, Dr Kathleen Israel disclosed that not only is the disease present in this hemisphere but approximately 50,000 people die from it on an annual basis.
“Once Chagas exists in a country and there is a capacity for that disease or its agent to cross borders then it will happen and Guyana is located close to Brazil and Venezuela and both countries have Chagas that has been endemic for some time,” Dr Israel divulged.
She further noted that a few other countries in the Caribbean including Trinidad, Belize and Suriname had recently decided to make mandatory the screening of blood with a view of detecting and managing the disease.
For this reason, yesterday’s workshop was regarded as the launching of a nationwide literacy programme about Chagas.
According to Minister Ramsammy, Chagas is one of the known infectious diseases that have a chronic phase. He pointed out that while the classical version of some infectious diseases is those that come and go with the appropriate treatment, Chagas, on the other hand, is an infectious disease that can go undetected and therefore can remain as a chronic condition.
“We have to develop this proficiency and this competency among health care providers. There is enough evidence that one of the major routes for transmission is blood transfusion. I am happy that we are one year ahead in terms of our schedule of 100 per cent of our blood being screened for Chagas or (at least) we are near.”
The Minister disclosed that 100 per cent of the blood that is processed by the NBTS is screened for Chagas, adding that blood available at the central blood bank is now even safer than it was one year ago.
He highlighted that the Ministry has stipulated a March 1 deadline for the private sector to follow suit or be prevented from processing blood altogether. “I want to assure all of you that by March 1, 100 per cent of the blood utilised in Guyana will be screened for Chagas and that is because the only place where blood is not screened for Chagas at the moment is in the private sector. The private sector will not be permitted to screen blood unless they have the same competency as the National Blood Transfusion Service (NBTS).”
And according to the Minister, there is no local private sector entity with a capacity on par with that of the NBTS.
In addition to the support of PAHO, the Health Ministry’s efforts to combat the Chagas disease will be supported by the Centre for Disease Control (CDC).
Chief of Party of and Director of CDC, Dr LaMar Hasbrouck, asserted that the CDC’s operation is not merely based on an HIV/AIDS response but also to aid the strengthening and improvement of the health sector for patients in general.
And by supporting the Ministry’s initiative, Dr Hasbrouck said that the CDC will also be able to achieve its own pledge of increasing healthier people through partnership.
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