Below is a commentary on the shortages of medicines, particularly yellow fever vaccines by Dr Leslie Ramsammy, a former Minister of Health under the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP):
The scandalous shortages of medicines and medical supplies continue in the public health sector. In spite of the almost weekly promise of the Ministry of Public Health that shortages will be a thing of the past, shortages continue to persist and is getting even worse.
The state-of-the art medical warehouse at Diamond is still not fully occupied, the shameful “house for a medical warehouse” in Georgetown that is costing Guyanese taxpayers more than $15M per month in rent and utilities alone, not including employees and other operational cost, is mostly empty, storing mostly condoms, while hospitals and health centers have to refer patients to private pharmacies for medicines and medical supplies.
In the meanwhile, even vaccines are in short supply. It is worrisome that many people traveling to countries which require yellow fever vaccine cards are having difficulties traveling because they are unable to obtain yellow fever vaccines.
Particularly worrying are those persons who need to travel to Brazil. There is an outbreak of yellow fever in that country.
As of February 23, in Brazil, since the beginning of the outbreak in December 2016 to EW 6 of 2017, there were 1,336 cases of yellow fever reported (292 confirmed, 124 discarded, and 920 suspected cases remain under investigation), including 215 deaths (101 confirmed, 5 discarded, and 109 under investigation).
The case fatality rate (CFR) is 35 percent among confirmed cases and 12 percent among suspected cases. Brazil has now declared a yellow fever emergency in 64 cities.
There are several other countries that require people from Guyana to have yellow fever vaccinations before they enter those countries. With the outbreak of yellow fever in Brazil, countries are more rigid in enforcing the requirement.
Information is that people are being turned away from the Ministry of Health and from health institutions because of the shortages of yellow fever vaccines.
It appears that the Ministry of Public Health has only an emergency supply and can accommodate some people who have travel documents.
But the emergency supply is being dispensed only to certain people, not to all persons with travel documents.
According to the Ministry, those with “essential” travel needs are being accommodated.
Those who have been denied yellow fever vaccines claim if you know the right person you might be able to get an emergency yellow fever vaccination.
People who have contacted me claim there are certain people who have been provided with yellow fever cards without the actual vaccination in order to accommodate their travel.
This is a dangerous situation and the Ministry of Public Health needs to investigate this dangerous practice, if, in fact, it is true.
While the outbreak in Brazil is not near the Guyana-Brazil border, Guyana needs to be diligent in its surveillance for yellow fever and the country needs to take all necessary precautions to ensure that any further spread of the yellow fever outbreak in Brazil does not impact health in Guyana.
The most certain way is to ensure that we have an active yellow fever vaccination program to immunize all Guyanese and to ensure that all Guyanese traveling to yellow fever zones are properly immunized.
Dr Leslie Ramsammy