Last Friday I attended the funeral of a dear cousin. She lost her battle with cancer. Cancer, once seen as a distant disease, in that it was considered rare, is no longer so. Many have families or know persons who battled or are battling this disease. Some are fortunate to have early detection, the opportunity for treatment and recession, while others not so. There are others when detection is known it may be too late; fear, finances, access and other factors prevent them from getting the care needed.
In the instance of my cousin she was diagnosed late with stage four breast cancer; a cancer I was advised is not considered prevalent, as a first time, in women of her age. She never thought, having not feeling well for some days and visiting the doctor, that such would be her diagnosis after doing a series of tests. She and the entire family were taken aback by the news. This was a woman in her early 70s, healthy and strong, capable of engaging in chores and other activities befitting someone in their late 50s. Within months the grim reaper knocked on her door and took her away from us.
What we are left with today, outside of dealing with the shock and mortality, are pleasant memories. She and I are of the same generation of the John and Julia Thompson clan. This strain of my family is originally from Kingelly, West Coast Berbice. Her mother was my aunt, my mother’s eldest sister. I remember us growing up, she being the older cousin, and us of the generation where reverence had to be given to any older than yourself. We would visit our grandfather, John Thompson, who we called Papa, on Sundays. It was a treat, and as children we couldn’t wait for church to be over to head over to his house.
You see, Papa always had an abundance of food waiting us. For children it was a delight to be allowed to eat whatever you wanted, and as much as you wanted, unsupervised by adults. He indulged us. As the older one, hers was the task to ensure order in this weekly fanfare. Knowing my love for salt butter and biscuit, which Papa always had in supply, she would heap mounds on the biscuits, look at me with a wicked smile, and hand them over accompanied by a big enamel cup, full to the brim, with swank. Ohh, a child’s delight.
Papa, who had his origin in the village of Hopetown, West Coast Berbice, was a man of big physique. He was six feet three inches tall, with broad shoulders, lily-white teeth and dark in complexion. He was so dark he was nicknamed “congo cassareep.” For us as children he was a giant, not to be afraid of, but one who would cuddle, indulge and gently reprimand. The advantage of Papa’s size was that everything in his house was big and plentiful. You had big cups, big plates, big pot of food, big everything, and whatever we ate and drank were served in big measures.
One of things we hated when spending time with Papa, who was the village overseer, was the fact that he had to share our time with the villagers, who would drop in to discuss village matters, wanted him to sign some documents, etc. We used to get vex, because it interrupted him not only from telling us of the family history, which he was strong in, but also world news that he read and heard of.
Whenever my cousin and I met, we always talked about Papa, because it was our most bonding and pleasurable period of growing up. She moved out of the village to attend high school and I to Kwakwani, bringing an end to an experience a person can never forget. Memories don’t leave like people do, and as I bid my final farewell to my dear cousin, once again I couldn’t help but reflect.
Healthcare is a human rights issue. In Guyana the call for universal healthcare dates back to 1926 when the trade union movement publicly stated it is a matter of right, deserving to be on the national agenda as part of human development. As I write, I remember Bevon Currie, a young man who lost his battle with cancer last December. He was detected late, having been told in Guyana his condition was something else. It was his insistence to have a second opinion in another country that he learnt the grim news and his chance of survival. He was deprived a fighting chance in the land of his birth and even struggled to secure the opportunity to have access to same in another man’s land.
Access to healthcare including early screening, detection, regular check-up, prevention and curative measures must not only be for the rich, connected and privileged. We have serious soul-searching to do in this country, how we value not only our lives but also the life of others. We hear so much talk about the potential of oil and gas revenue and we know of the budgetary allocation to the health sector. These will continue to mean nothing where opportunity to access quality healthcare for all, including education on health and wellness, remain elusive and in short supply.
We need a system where access exists in every regional and sub-regional community to address diseases such as diabetes, hypotension/hypertension, renal failure and cancer, which are showing signs of reaching epidemic proportion in our society. We need a proactive, scientifically-driven healthcare policy, buttressed by a programme.
Obesity is also becoming a problem, bringing with it attendant chronic diseases. We have to move away from the mundane reactionary approach to healthcare, and of accepting that it is okay for others, because of their status and wealth, to access better care, and not all of us.
Healthcare is intrinsic to production, productivity, human and national development. People are a nation’s most vital and valued resource. The other factors of production are meaningless without the input of the most vital. Healthcare is not a privilege, it is a right, and all measures must be put in place to ensure everyone, from the womb to the tomb, enjoy this right. Age ought not to be the determinant of access, denial or acceptance when with better systems the chances of positive outcomes can be the hope of all.
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