Oct 18, 2020 News
By Sharmain Grainger
Kaieteur News – It is said that in combat, if someone becomes a casualty, another person must step-up and take his place. But, much like most things in life, it isn’t always guaranteed that the replacement will be of the same ilk and calibre. Moreover, although the ‘no one is indispensable’ notion is widely accepted, it isn’t always easily embraced owing to the fact that some people are not as dispensable as others. This might have been the reasoning of the administrators of the Ministry of Health, back in April, when a decision was made to retain the active service of Dr.
Shamdeo Persaud although time had reached for him to proceed on pre-retirement leave. Dr. Persaud, the country’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO), has been a fixture at the Health Ministry since his appointment in this capacity in June of 2007. Although there were many worrying health concerns over the years of his career, none can compare to the contagious COVID-19 which was first discovered in China towards the end of last year and soon after grabbed the attention of the entire world. Guyana recorded its first COVID-19 case in March of this year. Recognising the disease as a colossal threat to the health sector, former Minister of Public Health, Ms. Volda Lawrence, decided to ask the versatile and very experienced Dr. Persaud to remain on the job to guide the country’s response. Dr. Persaud, like many health professionals, has learnt many valuable lessons since the infiltration of the novel coronavirus disease. In this regard, he acknowledged without hesitation that “health really lies in the hand of each and every one of us and it is not based on how good a health care system is…personal behaviours and good health practices are critical.” He noted too that although elderly persons are likely to suffer more, the long-term impact of the disease may affect an even wider cross-section of the population since all are indeed vulnerable. From the more than 3,000 positive cases recorded locally, over 100 have died as a result of complications, at the time of writing this article. For this reason, Dr. Persaud has surmised that, “we all need to work to bring this pandemic under control. Responsible behaviours, observing public health measures are important…your actions can help to save others.” HUMBLE BEGINNINGS Born to a farming couple, Thakur Persaud and his wife Bella Ramadi Persaud, on October 18, 1965, Dr. Persaud, a resident of Garden of Eden, East Bank Demerara, said that becoming a doctor was his first and only career choice. But had this not panned out, he could have just have easily opted to become a Marine Biologist or ventured into the field of environmental science. But it was his mother who ultimately gave him the needed nudge to take the medical path, he recalled. He attended the Supply Primary School and then the Covent Garden Secondary before heading to the St. Rose’s High to complete his secondary education. In his quest for higher learning, he attended the University of Guyana, the University of the West Indies and the St. George’s University. Thirty years after serving the public health sector with distinction – two years as an intern and 28 years with full license to practice medicine and surgery – Dr. Persaud has proceeded on pre-retirement leave, effectively passing the baton on to his successor, Dr. Narine Singh.
MAJOR ROLE But according to Dr. Persaud, even as an ambitious young doctor back in the day, he never envisioned ending his career in the public health sector in the prestigious post of CMO. As CMO, Dr. Persaud was entrusted with overseeing a gamut of programmes all of which had to be executed with efficiency in order to keep the nation healthy. Moreover, over the years, he has had a hand in helping to advance the delivery of health care. In so doing, he has handled matters relating to maternal and child health, accident and injuries, drug use and addiction, health standards, and regulations too. In addition to playing a key role in helping to expand universal health care, Dr. Persaud, even before his appointment as CMO, was involved in the Ministry’s fervent campaign to tackle the challenge of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). For the period 2015-2016 too, mental health/suicide was also among the issues that were high on the CMO’s agenda. As if a regular workday for him was not intense enough, there were the various emerging and re-emerging diseases and other daunting issues, including a fire that destroyed a critical section of the Ministry’s Brickdam, Georgetown headquarters in 2009, that CMO Persaud had to face. In that same year, he recalled that the health sector was thrust into overdrive mode when the H1N1 pandemic (Swine Flu) penetrated our shores.
Then in 2011, through 2016, there was need to heighten the country’s response to dengue even as efforts were being made to deal with high maternal deaths in 2012, Chikungunya in 2013 and Zika in 2015. By the time 2019 dawned, the Ministry, with Dr. Persaud in the forefront, was waging war against histoplasmosis – an infection caused by a fungus found in the droppings of birds and bats in humid areas. UNPREDICTABLE But Dr. Persaud had long come to realize that matters of health can often be unpredictable. This became especially pellucid when he was required to be on the frontline when the country, in the early 1990s, was faced with a tuberculosis/HIV threat. At the same time, malaria was rampant and later (1997-2003) filariasis was added to the menu of diseases, which the local health sector had to combat. In addition to SARS (a viral respiratory disease) in 2003, Dr. Persaud recalled the “great coastal flooding” of 2005 which resulted in an outbreak of Leptospirosis – a relatively rare bacterial infection that can pass from animals to humans when an unhealed break in the skin comes in contact with water or soil where animal urine is present. He also gained vast experience over the years from working at several health facilities including: the Georgetown Public Hospital and the Mackenzie, Mabaruma, West Demerara Regional and Leonora hospitals as well as the Chest Clinic. “While at the TB programme, I ran clinics at Upper Demerara, New Amsterdam and the Orange Walk Chest Clinic,” Dr. Persaud recalled. But as he reflected on his stint as CMO, Dr. Persaud expressed concern about the unprecedented impact of COVID-19 on the health system. “COVID-19 has detracted from the programmes to tackle NCDs, mental health and to address maternal, child, adolescents and elderly health,” said Dr. Persaud who is already contemplating his return to medical practice. However, when asked if he is satisfied with his contribution to the nation, the modest Dr. Persaud’s response was a surprising “to a point”. Words, however, did not fail him when asked to proffer advice to young persons who maybe desirous of following in his footsteps. To this Dr. Persaud said, “dedicate yourself to the task. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Keep on learning, listen and try to meet everyone’s needs but keep to standards.” As he takes some much needed time for himself, this father of three, may even try to indulge in some of his favourite pastimes such as volunteerism, planting, physical fitness, travel, reading, and, perhaps, he just might be able to enjoy a few good movies and his favourite TV series. Even as he regroups after dedicating three decades of his life to the advancement of health care in our dear land, today, with approval from the Ministry of Health, we ascribe the title of ‘Champion Health Care Provider’ to Dr. Persaud and wish him the very best in his future endeavours. >>>
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