The presence of people in protests at a time when these very people stayed in the woodwork claiming fear of victimization is a sure sign that social conditions have changed. It is also a sign that people are confident that their voices are now being heard.
But sometimes such is the feeling of freedom that people grasp at anything to gain attention. There was the parking meter issue that I can only conclude took a turn to the stage it is, because of the weekly protests staged by a class of people who no longer feel that they have to stay in their homes and mutter about their discontent.
One big issue involves the award of a contract to Ansa McAl for the supply of drugs. In the first instance, it was widely acknowledged that there was a shortage of drugs stemming from both corruption and an abuse of the system that operated. People reported going to hospitals and clinics for prescriptions only to be told that they would have to buy supplies.
So entrenched was the shortage that poor people were sent to pharmacies that sported full shelves. A probe would have revealed that most of these supplies in the pharmacies came from the public system. There were people in the Ministry of Health and the Georgetown Public Hospital who were siphoning off drugs—taking would be a better word—and giving them to the pharmacies.
With every report of a shortage came the response that there was no shortage. In fact, only recently the former Minister of Health, Dr George Norton, admitted that there were shortages.
The administration changed the Minister and installed Ms. Volda Lawrence. The first thing that she did was to visit the hospitals and clinics. There she was confronted with the harsh reality that people inside were stealing the drugs. A subsequent audit also revealed that a supplier during the previous administration received close to one billion dollars for a shipment of drugs. There is no evidence that the shipment has arrived. No one has been charged for fraud.
Ms. Lawrence was confronted with the shortage, so she caused four tenders to be awarded, three of them to smaller suppliers and one to Ansa McAl. No one is talking about the tender awarded to the other three, but the focus is on Ansa McAl. Suddenly the champions of freedom and democracy are claiming that the award was less than transparent.
From my layman’s point of view, I have had to deal with the perennial reports of shortages, sometimes going into my pocket to help people buy the prescription they needed. I also knew that the regular tender process would take a few months. The people would have had to tolerate the shortage and the government would have had to face even more criticisms.
That the Minister took the decision she did is not being commended, even as the complaints of drug shortages have been drastically minimized. No one is paying attention to the fact that the ordinary man is getting his supplies.
I heard about the rampant corruption; of procurement officers being filthy rich because they would stall requests until a preferred supplier could procure the drugs. This continued for a long time, and whenever someone was confronted the end result was that the person would be removed. No one has even been prosecuted, although there was abundant evidence.
On Friday I asked Minister Joseph Harmon about the failure to prosecute the culprits, and got the reply that there must be due process. Failing this, there would be further noise and protests and claims of dictatorship. The situation is a vicious cycle.
There is a lot wrong with the health system and corrective measures are not even forthcoming, because people are busy protecting each other. I had cause to mention the doctor who was fetching out a piece of equipment from the Georgetown Public Hospital. Immediately as he was caught there was the big cover-up.
One doctor stepped forward to proclaim that this doctor, whose wife is also a doctor, was borrowing the piece of equipment. I would believe that if one were to borrow something one would have to use a system, the first step of which would be to make a request.
The next thing has to do with nursing education. I remember taking the then Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy to task for contending that Guyana would counter the disappearance of nurses by training more people. The result is that the classes are so huge that very few can be taught. The students are wasting their time, because many are not even being taught.
The recent results of the professional nursing examinations tell the story. Of 179 candidates, a mere 23 passed. This would be tolerated in no education system. As a former teacher there was the adage that a student has not learnt if the teacher has not taught. Massive failures must be blamed on the teachers.
This high fail rate has been with us for years, but there has not been an examination of the people imparting the knowledge. I doubt that some are qualified. There has also been no attempt to reduce the intakes, so that the classrooms can be properly managed.
The shocking result was that not one person passed from the Linden School of Nursing. No more than four passed from the New Amsterdam School of Nursing and four passed from the St Joseph School. What the system is doing is pushing a group of enterprising young nurses to suicide, because I have heard that some of them have been failing for two years.
More shocking is the fact that after the results were leaked, the various public schools maintained a veil of silence. Many of the known tutors chose to hide from scrutiny. I am still to see officialdom face the press to discuss this situation. No one wants to talk about the failure because whatever happens, the tutors are being paid.
I wish the students would form themselves into a group and talk about this situation. They must bare their souls, because this situation would continue if left unattended. I am not going to ask the Minister to comment, although she must have called in the various people responsible. I want to talk with the heads of the various nursing schools.
One of my daughters passed through the Georgetown School. Back then, in 2002, the classes were a fraction of what they are today. There were 15 in her class. Two failed and five were asked to re-write one subject. My daughter told me that once a student failed nursing that was considered an outright failure. Sister Vashti Hinds was heading the Georgetown School of Nursing.
The administration sought to have a class of 35 in 2002, but Sister Hinds objected and got it down to 15. Dr Leslie Ramsammy tormented her, but she stuck to her guns. When the torment became too much after her class graduated she quit, but she ensured that there were professional nurses in the system. Ramsammy’s way is prevailing today, with dire consequences.
In 2002, the classes were manageable. I watched the volume of work my daughter did; saw the kind of help she was able to offer to her colleagues and to tutors. I helped her with the necessary research. She got an award at her graduation and I have the trophy at my home to prove it.
So good was the programme that when my daughter migrated in 2008, six months later she was a State Registered Nurse. She is now earning about five times what I earn today.
Back home, it must be recognized that nurses are the backbone of the health system, so it is not by accident that people are complaining about the treatment. We do not have qualified nurses and each year the situation is getting worse. We need to go back to what should be—smaller classes and adequate tutors.
Volda Lawrence has her work cut out for her.
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