Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence

-Public Health Minister says maternity wards being consistently improved
-more maternal waiting homes to be built in hinterland

By Navendra Seoraj

PATIENTS of the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC)’s maternity ward are no longer forced to share a bed, as was the case in the past when reports constantly surfaced about patients having to endure “unconscionable” conditions.


The Ministry of Public Health, along with assistance from various stakeholders such as Food for the Poor Guyana (FFP) and other organisations, has been able to efficiently address the issue and ensure that patients are comfortable, said Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence.

“We no longer have more than one patient on a bed as was the case in the past,” said Minister Lawrence during an interview with Social Activist, Mark Benschop on Benschop Radio, last Friday.


The capacity of the GPHC’s maternal section has been significantly improved, said the minister, adding that it could not have been possible without the assistance of various stakeholders.

She said development has not been specific to GPHC, but has been widespread, reaching maternity wards across the country. With the help of FFP, the Ministry of Public Health was able to send beds to maternity wards across the country.


“Although much has been done, there is still a need for more…we have not fully solved the problem because as we seek to add more beds, we have to get rid of the old, rusty beds…we cannot do it alone.

“You need to understand that we in the government cannot solve the issues we have on our own, the issues must be solved collectively,” said Minister Lawrence.

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The conditions of the hospital facilities in the past made persons lose trust in the public health system, but the minister believes that with assistance from stakeholders, they have been able to restore that trust to some extent. Although the system might still have its flaws, she said government is ready to admit to the issues, which they have before them, and will not deny anything.

“We recognised and we admitted to the issues that we have, especially those related to maternal mortality and the maternal health system… but we have been working with PAHO (Pan American Health Organisation) and other consultants to do a review of what was taking place in the maternity departments across the country.


“When there were many maternal deaths, we did not play the blame game… instead, in addition to assistance from PAHO, we put together the Maternal Mortality Review (MMR) committee…they have been reviewing all the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and visiting all the medical facilities where deliveries are done,” said the minister.

The MMR committee was launched in 2007 to investigate maternal deaths, that is, deaths during pregnancy or up to 42 days after delivery; probe ‘near misses’ mothers who were critical but made it through; still births (children who were born dead) and to develop strategies to help with protocols to reduce maternal deaths.


Their mandate also includes reviewing cases: examining charts, community interviews and hospital audits before making recommendations to the chief medical officer (CMO) for the necessary action based on their findings from the probes.

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Minister Lawrence said the Ministry of Public Health places deep consideration into the recommendations from the MMR committee and tries to address the existing issues in a timely manner.


“We address the issues on spot, there is no cover up…if persons need training, we get that done or if a department needs x or y equipment, we get it,” said the minister, adding that as the ministry continues along that line, they are hoping for zero maternal deaths.
The ministry had recognised that many maternal deaths were happening in the hinterland because persons were bleeding to death or suffering from anemia. The consultants from the MMR committee and PAHO were, however, able to look at how to reduce the occurrences of maternal deaths in the hinterland.
Through assistance from PAHO, the ministry was able to introduce maternity suits, which mothers would wear to stop the bleeding.

“Through PAHO, we obtained several suits and placed them in the hinterland…when there was an issue, the use of the suit kicks in, so by the time the medical experts reach, they can take over that patient and it helped to reduce the deaths we are having, especially in Region One (Barima-Waini),” said Minister Lawrence.


The ministry has also been continuously looking at other ways to reduce maternal deaths in the hinterland.

Minister Lawrence believes it is necessary to reduce maternal deaths because a life is a life, and she emphasised that point by stating: “when a mother dies, it does not end there, you have to look at the negative social spin off… if that mother has other children, the state will kick in to ensure they can go on public assistance and so forth, so there is an economic impact as well.”

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Although the ministry has not fully addressed the problem as yet, they are working to ensure that any inefficiency receives attention. One of the inefficiencies being addressed by the ministry is the issue of a shortage in human resource.

“We did not have enough to spread around in all the health facilities and, in many instances, we still had fathers delivering babies, birth attendants delivering babies and so forth, but what we sought to do was to address that gap by training young people from various hinterland villages,” said Minister Lawrence.


After being trained, the villagers would be considered as Community Health Workers (CHWs) who would assist in delivering babies, especially if the mother was unable to travel far distances to reach the nearest health facility.

The issue of mothers having to travel far distances is also being addressed simultaneously by the Ministry of Public Health, said Minister Lawrence, noting that maternity waiting homes are being built at various hospitals and health facilities in the hinterland.
Women, who have health issues, would be sent two months in advance to a waiting home so that they would be next to a specialist when the time for delivery reaches. The ministry intends on constructing more waiting homes in the coming year.



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