GEORGETOWN – The parliamentary opposition has raised concerns over what it described as the high number of deaths of newborn infants at the Georgetown Public Hospital over the past year.
Opposition member of parliament (MP) Dr Vindhya Persaud, who was allowed oral questions in parliament on Thursday, requested health minister Volda Lawrence to provide statistics in relation to these deaths.
Lawrence confirmed the MP’s suspicion when she revealed that there have been 119 deaths of newborn infants at the Georgetown Public Hospital during the period June 2017 to June 2018.
According to the minister, from a total of 1155 admissions of neonatal over the period, some 10.3 per cent of those admissions resulted in deaths, which she also claimed is far too many.
“The government recognizes that it has the right, and the onus is on us to ensure that at every level of healthcare, the necessary services are provided for our people,” she told the national assembly.
The minister noted that government has made large investments into improving that specific department, and that the issues there are being actively looked at, especially over the past three years.
While admitting again that the numbers are alarming, Lawrence said there has been no increase in neonatal deaths. Rather, there has been the same line in terms of how those deaths occurred.
“It has been declining, and we continue to work and put measures in place to bring it down to zero,” she added.
The minister noted that every death in reported to the relevant authorities, and there are consistent and routine tasks done, which include sanitation, to prevent these deaths.
In relation to the investigation of these deaths, Lawrence reminded that every neonatal is reported, and a report is prepared and reviewed by the Child Mortality committee which comprises government and private sector officials. If any discrepancies are found, then a further investigation is done.
“So since that period under review, there was no special investigation. We didn’t do any because we didn’t have any such discrepancies in the report to lodge one. What corrective measures? Since there was no investigation, there was no corrective measures or recommendations,” she explained.
But Dr Persaud pressed Lawrence in a follow up question on whether there as any targeted investigation being held to find out the primary causes of these deaths. The opposition MP didn’t seem satisfied that with 30 of those deaths
recorded in the first four months of the year, no investigation has been conducted.
In responding to whether there was any infrequent testing of the facility, which may have been responsible for deaths within the same period, Lawrence told the national assembly that the hospital employs foreign practices routinely to prevent mortality. It is also cleaned thoroughly and checked frequently.
Persaud is to submit more written questions to the health minister for further clarity on the issue.
Despite progress having been achieved during the last decade, Guyana continues to experience one of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in Latin America and the Caribbean, with a maternal mortality rate estimated at 121 per 1,000 live births, and an infant mortality rate at 22 per 1,000 live births.
In 2016, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) had approved an US$8 million loan for a programme to help reduce maternal, perinatal and neonatal deaths in Guyana. The focus of the programme is to improve the quality of care at 140 health facilities and in 88 communities, benefitting at least 140,000 women and 9,000 newborns per year.
The initiative was designed with the aim of supporting and improving maternal and child health care geared towards improving access to quality neonatal health services, and providing a better path to, and quality of, reproductive and maternal health services. Efforts such as these must be commended.
That said, the most recent report by UNICEF has made some useful recommendations, which the government here should seriously consider. Diligent efforts must be made to continue reducing newborn and child deaths. We believe that once there is a concerted, coordinated effort among policymakers, businesses, healthcare workers, communities and families, we can achieve the desired results as those relate to reducing child mortality rates.