While there have been noticeable gains recorded, the challenge of Malaria still exists and perhaps surpasses that of
the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Tuberculosis (TB). This assertion was made by Director of Communicable Diseases within the Ministry of Health, Dr. Morris Edwards.
This is in spite of the fact that the Malaria vector – the Anopheles mosquito – is not currently prevalent on the coastland but rather in interior locations, particularly where there are mining activities.
But the health sector is nevertheless grateful for this state of affairs as, according to Dr. Edwards, there was a time many years ago
when Malaria was very evident along the coast. Its impact then was curtailed by effective vector control and treatment programmes which the health sector was able to put in place.
But because of some of the challenges faced in the economy and the shifting of the labour force towards the extractive (mining and lumber) sectors, Dr. Edwards disclosed that the disease became more pronounced in the interior locations. Currently, the mining sector attracts a wide cross section of the population and is in fact, the most lucrative as demonstrated by the return it secures on an annual basis.
Since this economic avenue is one plagued with the Malaria parasite, the health sector is faced with a challenge of more people being predisposed to contracting the disease.
But although the vector is prevalent in the interior areas “when we look at the figures we see more and more episodes of Malaria,” said Dr. Edwards. He went on to point out, that although persons are able to access treatment they still are at risk as they remain in the interior to retain their employment.
This therefore means, Dr. Edwards explained, that some of these very people will understandably become re-infected, resulting in more cases. Dr. Edwards admitted too that while treatment is forthcoming, controlling the disease continues to be an uphill task, thus making Malaria an area of great concern. “We really have to see how we are going to try to bring that under more control,” said the Communicable Diseases Director, as he spoke of ongoing efforts to work with the communities as well as loggers and miners with a view of getting them to change their behaviour patterns.
A behaviour change, he noted, will constitute the use of insecticide treated bed nets as well as appropriate Malaria treatment. There were reports in the past of counterfeit Malaria drugs being sold over the counter, a situation that the Health Ministry has been seeking to work against through its Government Analyst Food and Drug Department. “Those are some of the things that hinder the type of progress that we want to see,” informed Dr. Edwards as he turned his attention to the state of TB in Guyana.
He pointed out that while TB is under control to a certain extent evident by a reduction in the number of cases, there are however, certain segments of the population such as the homeless, whose personal situations are not conducive to reducing the impact of the disease. This, he disclosed, can result in their immune system being compromised thereby, resulting in them being more exposed to contracting TB. They are also among those infected that are the most difficult to ensure that they stay on treatment.
“Those are the pockets that we need to focus a lot on,” said Dr. Edwards as he pointed to another challenge he observed since taking up the Communicable Diseases Director portfolio early last year.
He was making reference to the situation of acute diarrhea in some riverain areas which occurs as a result of conditions that prevail there.
This is a direct result of the residents’ use of surface water from contaminated rivers. “Sewerage disposal is a challenge and those communities are spread far and wide so they pose some amount of challenge to really get those things under control,” asserted Dr. Edwards. He went on to note that “it is not easy to say that you are going to have treated water delivered to all of those communities as, according to him, such an activity may not be feasible for the sparse populations these communities contain. Some communities, he noted, may have as much as 200 persons.
However, the possibility of digging wells in such communities is an option that has been embraced. An unfortunate outcome though is that these wells can also become contaminated.
However, Dr. Edwards noted that continued efforts will be made by the Health Ministry to sustain and even surpass gains in the areas of Communicable Diseases in the New Year.
As Communicable Diseases Director, Dr. Edwards has oversight responsibility for all factions of dealing with communicable diseases within the public health sector ranging from HIV to vector control.
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