…as Int’l Occupational Therapy Day is observed
Heightened awareness is in order to help promote occupational therapy, as International Occupational Therapy Day is observed today. And the awareness efforts are being channelled through the Rehabilitation Services of the Ministry of Health.
But though the Health Sector is currently supporting a University of Guyana programme to produce its own occupational therapists, the system is currently receiving much needed help from the Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO).
In the person of Ms Sarah Verveld, an Occupational Therapist, who hails from the Netherlands, the local health sector has been gaining much needed support. Verveld has been in Guyana some 14 months now and has been rendering her expertise to rehab centres in the city and in some far flung regions as part of the Ministry of Health’s mission to make the access to rehabilitation services universal. Before Verveld, there were other voluntary therapists, and in a matter of months another therapist is expected to complement her efforts.
Speaking to this newspaper recently, Verveld said that she has been working closely with a batch of recently trained rehabilitation assistants trained by the Ministry of Health.
“Since I have been here I have visited the various departments and I have been supporting the local rehabilitation staff involved in occupational therapy…I have been sharing with them everything that I know.”
And according to Verveld work in the area of occupational therapy are focused on three main areas – physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. She revealed that often is the case that patients start off accessing physiotherapy which is required following an injury of some sort.
However, she asserted that physiotherapy may not always be the lone remedy needful to alleviate some resulting problems. “There are times when patients still face problems and then the occupational therapy part steps in…like how you deal with your daily activities even when you are not that functional or mobile. Together with a Rehab Assistant who offers occupational therapy an individual can learn how to be independent again,” Verveld asserted.
Aside from persons who suffer from injuries, the Ministry of Health also offers remedial therapy to children born with some physical abnormalities. Persons are sometimes referred to the Rehabilitation Services by doctors, but according to Verveld, there is a growing need for persons to be more aware of the services that are offered free of cost.
“We are hoping that we will observe this day by advocating for parents to bring their children from an early stage so that which they will not have to suffer from defects that could be fixed with therapy. We know the service may not always be easily accessible but we want people to use the service wherever possible.”
And even as the assistance from the VSO volunteers continues over the next few years, it is expected that Guyana will be producing its Occupational Therapists in a matter of years.
With the availability of a Bachelors of Science Degree Programme in Rehabilitation Service, the Ministry of Health, and by extension, the various rehabilitation centres and the Community Based Rehabilitation Programme, are likely to benefit from the skills of locally trained experts.
The Rehabilitation programme, which became a reality through collaboration between the Health Ministry and the University of Guyana is currently being offered at the Turkeyen campus, according to Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, Dr Emanuel Cummings.
He revealed that the candidates for this programme are able to choose from three areas of specialties, namely Physiotherapy, Speech Therapy and Occupational Therapy. And it is expected that workers already in the health system will take full advantage of the programme and be trained to deal with the issues of disabilities, thus paving the way for an improvement in the way health care is delivered to differently-able people.
However, the programme will not only cater to improving the services offered to disabled persons but will also address the need for physiotherapy in the area of sports.
“We know there is a need for physiotherapists working with the various sporting organisations and already lots of possible candidates have been indicating their interest in the programme,” Dr Cummings disclosed during an interview with this newspaper.
He said that it was in recognition of the need for rehabilitation service in various sectors of society that measures were put in place for persons to specialise in various therapeutic areas. The rehabilitation curriculum, he said, is designed in such a way that candidates, after two years of the four-year programme, can opt to choose one area of speciality.
“The way we have planned our syllabus here in Health Sciences is that in the first two years of the programmes most of the courses are core subjects such as Mathematics, English, Physics and Chemistry. So it will see them in those years working along with candidates of the Pharmacy and Medical Technology programmes,” Dr Cummings revealed.
And while lecturers are already in place for the core subject areas, the Dean divulged that much support would be forthcoming from universities abroad.
The introduction of this latest programme at the university “means a whole lot to rehabilitation services in Guyana,” said Director of Rehabilitation Services within the Health Ministry, Ms Barbara Lawrence. According to Lawrence, the programme has been long in coming. “We have been the driving force behind this programme so this means a lot to us to actually see it come off the ground.”
She related that the Ministry of Health has for years offered a Rehabilitation Assistant programme which is a middle level course. So in order to acquire the few professionals currently in the system, training at the professional level had to be sought overseas. And once persons are trained in the field of rehabilitation, she revealed that it is a very difficult task to retain them as the skills they possess are very marketable.
“Persons with this kind of training are in great demand. So we are hoping that with a local programme we will be able to retain more of them.”
And according to Minister within the Health Ministry, Dr Bheri Ramsaran, the resources extended to the Ministry of Health have expanded consistently over the years, a move which now enables the public health sector to expand its investment capabilities. Crucial among the expansion drive, he said, is the much needed support that is being directed to the area of Rehabilitation Services.
The Minister’s comment was forthcoming earlier this year at the formal launch of the National Rehabilitation Services Strategy 2009-2013. According to Dr Ramsaran, he is pleased to see the strategic plan recognises the need to reap value for money. He further highlighted that over the past few years the administration has created many new facilities to help strengthen the delivery of health care, some that are even considered better than was obtained in the past.
Nonetheless, the Minister confessed that within some infrastructures there exist capacity constraints especially in the area of rehabilitation services.
“Unfortunately we have not created special spaces. This may have been a designer’s oversight but at the same time it was based on the fact that resources at the time were somewhat scarce,” he admitted.
And this state of affairs Minister Ramsaran said has been highlighted over the years by Director of Rehabilitation Services, Ms Lawrence, who has been an unwavering advocate for the rights of disabled persons. But although the infrastructure does not cater to accommodate and roll-out Rehabilitation Services, efforts are already being made to remedy the situation, the Minister noted. This, he said, has commenced at some facilities such as the Mahaicony Hospital where detached spaces have been constructed.
“This move is the direct result of the sensitivity of the administration of the need to have these services in the rightful places at the various facilities,” he added.
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