Guyana’s COVID-19 coronavirus infection rate is way too high. Fifty (50) out of every one (1) million persons are infected. And while Guyana’s total caseload, as at Monday, of 1,306 is below that of Trinidad 1,773 and Jamaica 2,459, Guyana’s per capita rate is far higher than that of both countries. In fact, we have twice the number of cases per capita than Jamaica.
Guyana’s death rate is much too high. Thirty nine (39) persons have died as at Sunday. This works out to 50 deaths per every one million persons. Barbados’s rate is 24 per every one million persons half that of Guyana. Trinidad is merely 18 per one million persons. Jamaica, despite having 2,459 infections, only has 21 deaths, half that of Guyana. Its death rate is only seven per every million persons.
What this says is that Frank Stanislaus Anthony, the Minister of Health, has started looking closely at the type of treatment people are receiving at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC). The GPHC had been pioneering plasma treatment. The early indications were favourable. Since then there has been a massive increase in both infections and recoveries. More than 600 persons have recovered. This means that these persons could be approached for plasma to see if it can help save the lives of those severely sick.
On August 23 last, the United States Food and Drugs Department (FDA) issued emergency use authorization (EUA) for convalescent plasma for the treatment of COVID-19 hospitalized patients. The decision it was said came after the FDA had undertaken an extensive review of the science and data generated over several months.
Guyana was ahead of the US in this regard and the recent doubling of deaths in one month came as a surprise given the initial favourable reports on the use of convalescent plasma. This is an area in which there needs to be calls for more persons to donate plasma so that it can be applied in cases where no other treatment is likely to work.
The Minister of Health did say that he was seeking to get Remdesivir, a drug which has been found to aid recovery in patients. The FDA this week approved emergency authorization of the drug not just for emergency patients but for all patients.
The drug is extremely expensive in the United States. But India is making it cheaper and it should be sourced without any further delay
Earlier this year there were reports out of the United Kingdom that a cheap drug, dexamethasone, had been found to reduce deaths in severely-ill COVID-19 patients but had little effect on those with mild symptoms. Taiwan this week issued a preliminary approval for this drug.
There are other treatments which are being used and which one would hope are being used in Guyana. It is really astonishing the rapid increases in deaths over the past months. As testing is increased, more persons are going to be tested positive and more persons are also going to die.
Barbados has been a remarkable success story so far. It has only 174 cases and just seven deaths. And one of the main reasons for this is that, unlike Guyana, it rolled out mass testing very early. Guyana as at Monday last had done 8,510 tests. Barbados with only 267,000 persons had done double that amount. On a per capita basis, Barbados has done also five times as more testing than Guyana. And that is why its total cases and deaths are low.
Guyana cannot afford the half-baked measures which the Ministry of Health is implementing. Better has to be done.
Guyana is surrounded by countries which are at hot spots. Suriname now has 4,034 cases and 71 deaths. And they have just over half of a million persons. The numbers in Brazil and Venezuela are too depressing to even mention. The situation in Region Nine and Region One shows the effect of what is happening in neighbouring state. This is why there is need for tightening up the movement of persons between Guyana and Suriname and Guyana and Brazil. Otherwise Region Six will get out of control and Region Nine will get worse. All movement in and out of this region should already have been banned.
The virus has been spreading throughout the country since March. The low testing done before August meant that thousands are being infected, most of whom do not know. They are spreading the virus because more than half of them are asymptomatic. People have the virus and do not know.
More testing has to be done but it makes no sense increasing testing if results cannot be available in 24 hours. Given the present wait-time between testing and results, people are going to get sick and not be able to get treatment because their status would not be confirmed. Quite a few persons have died before their test results came back.
The options for the government must be to have a lockdown for at least two weeks, except for essential services and to ensure that the time between testing and the availability of results is reduced to one day.
This virus started in China. And they have brought it under control. They did that by locking the hotspots down. We can do the same.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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