One of the best things about healthcare delivery in Guyana is that it is nationalized. Care is free and available to every citizen. It is financed and managed through the Ministry of Health working together with regional and local government. There is an independent private sector. However, despite a national health system, there are several gaps in the delivery of health care in Guyana.

by Bill Frist

The Week

America's national debt is ballooning at a worryingly rapid pace. But some programs ought to be spared the chopping block

POSTED ON APRIL 24, 2012, AT 7:10 AM

Government spending is about to get chopped — no matter who wins the next presidential election. President Obama and his GOP challenger Mitt Romney have both prioritized deficit reduction, which, of course, is a worthy goal. However, not all cuts are created equal. And many surveys put global health at the top of the list of things to slash. That's a mistake, and here's why.

1. Global health initiatives save lives abroad?Investments in global health pay off a lot more quickly and dramatically that you might think. PEPFAR, initiated by President George W. Bush and strongly embraced and expanded by Obama, was the largest direct investment any country has made in defeating a single virus (HIV) or disease. Our taxpayers' leadership has provided 7.2 million people with access to lifesaving, anti-retroviral therapy for HIV/AIDS, 8.6 million with treatment for tuberculosis, and more than 260 million — mostly kids — with anti-malarial resources. This U.S.-led historic initiative to prevent and fight disease has directly saved millions of lives, put kids back in school, and helped rescue entire societies from collapse over the past eight years. 

Saving lives and societies leads to better and stronger relationships for trade, enterprise, and foreign investments. It enables economic growth, democracy, accountability, and transparency in these countries. 

2. Global health initiatives protect U.S. families?Deadly microbes know no borders. They are just one plane ride away. HIV did not exist in the U.S. when I was a surgical trainee in 1981. But since then, it has killed more than 600,000 individuals here (and 25 million globally) and infects another 54,000 U.S. citizens each year. It arrived here from Haiti, migrating there from Africa.  

Imagine the devastation avoided if we had identified HIV and our National Institutes of Health had figured out how to treat the virus a decade before it arrived on our shores. Our current global surveillance and engagement system might have done just that.

3. Global health initiatives enhance national security?A hopeful people are a people who shun terrorism. And nothing destroys hope more than a society without a future, hollowed out by diseases that decimate middle-aged civil servants, police, doctors, and teachers. A bleak and nonproductive future for an individual sets the stage for societal discontent and chaos.

Our investments in public health reverse these tragedies, and fuel the smart power of health diplomacy. Kaiser Family Foundation surveys have repeatedly revealed that more than half the public thinks U.S. spending on health in developing countries is helpful for U.S. diplomacy (59 percent) and for improving America's image in the countries receiving aid (56 percent).

4. Global health initiatives are a bargain?Treating HIV costs a tenth of what it did a decade ago, and the costs continue to plummet. Globally, of the 8 million children under 5 years old who will die this year, half could be treated and cured with a low-cost intervention. Pneumonia, the number one killer of young children in the world, is easily treated for less than a dollar! And the No. 2 killer, diarrhea, can be prevented by increasing access to clean water. The price? For $20, we can provide clean water to a family for 20 years. For $14, we can fully vaccinate a child. 

5. Global health initiatives are simply the right thing to do?I was born in Nashville by the luck of the draw. It could just as well have been South Africa, where life expectancy is only 49 years. We are all the same. Lifting others up no matter where they live is part of what makes us American. It's what we do. Americans overwhelmingly say the U.S. should spend money on improving health for people in developing countries "because it's the right thing to do." Nearly half (46 percent) say this is the most important reason for the U.S. to invest in global health.

Yes, out of control entitlement spending and a deep recession have put everything on the chopping block. But let's be smart about where we cut and where we don't.

Dr. William H. Frist is a nationally acclaimed heart transplant surgeon, former U.S. Senate Majority Leader, the chairman of Hope Through Healing Hands and Tennessee SCORE, professor of surgery, and author of six books. Learn more about his work at BillFrist.com.

We are taught during medical training to be very cautious and to only proceed with decisions and procedures when we are well prepared. Putting in a breathing tube, for example, when a patient is having difficulty breathing or has lost consciousness, is a procedure that can be done with just a few simple pieces of equipment. But in an attempt to ensure success, we bring in advanced tools for back up, cameras to get a better look down the throat, smaller tubes in case the size we have chosen doesn’t fit. Once we are prepared for anything we are ready. But in many places around the world, including Georgetown Public Hospital in Guyana, those backups are simply not available.
Prior to my arrival, I had the opportunity to spend a considerable amount of time with one of the Guyanese EM residents as they visited Vanderbilt. In one of our various discussions, he brought up a fact that surprised me; the majority of Guyanese in the world do not reside in Guyana. Instead, they are scattered throughout North America, namely New York and Toronto. In his family for instance, only 10-20% remained in the nation, with the rest living in one of New York’s five boroughs. When I asked him if he would eventual join them in the US, he said no. His colleagues, however, had a much different approach.
I paid a visit to the local hospital called Makelekele, the second largest hospital in Brazzaville where I visited the different sections in the hospital and spoke with the staff. The hospital was a little crowded due to the explosion that occurred a few weeks ago. A number of people are still receiving treatment from the hospital.
All I can say is, I don’t know how they do it. I have finished my time in A&E and have been on female medical ward for the last week and a half. The female medical ward is housed in a new facility that opened several months ago. There are approximately 8 patients per room. Patients have to bring their own sheets, clothes, toilet paper, water, and any other supplies that they might need. There are many nurses and even more nursing students around, but I have yet to figure out exactly what they do. Care by the nursing staff is haphazard at best.
Over the past two weeks, I have continued to work on the research paper on the status of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) supply strategies in the African Region as reported by the Parties to the Convention. My plans to have the first event of the employee community service program in March have been stalled. We also had an unfortunate incident in Brazzaville on the 5th of March. A fire started at a military arms depot and set off a series of explosions killing more than 150 people and leaving thousands displaced. This sad event was felt at the office as many workers lost their homes. As a result, things were a bit slow at the office this week. The event has been postponed to April to allow time for things to settle back down.
Prior to my arrival in Guyana, I had the opportunity to spend a considerable amount of time with one of the Guyanese EM residents when they visited Vanderbilt. In one of our discussions, he brought up a fact that surprised me: the majority of Guyanese in the world do not reside in Guyana. Instead, they are scattered throughout North America, namely New York and Toronto. Only 10-20 percent of his family, for instance, remained in the nation, with the rest living in one of New York’s five boroughs. When I asked him if he would eventual join them in the US, he said no. His colleagues, however, had a much different approach.
It has been two months now! Yes, Two months! Over the past two weeks, I have focused on writing and designing the layout for country-level reports on the Status of Implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) for two countries-Madagascar and Lesotho. While writing the report for Madagascar, I observed that the tax on the most widely sold brand of tobacco is 76%. “Impressive”, I thought, given the difficulties and politics involved in the implementation of such tax policy. Upon inquiry, I learnt that Madagascar has the best practice in Africa. Madagascar also has health warnings on tobacco labeling and packaging covering more than 50% of the package and labels. The issue of health warnings reminded me of the events in the US where the implementation of graphic health warnings on tobacco packaging and labels were ruled as unconstitutional by the courts. I hope tobacco advocacy groups continue to fight for the adoption of such policies. Policies recommended by the FCTC has been shown to reduce tobacco consumption and in turn, premature mortality from tobacco use.
My first week here in Riobamba, Ecuador has been fantastic. In the mornings I attend rounds in the pediatric hospital with residents and attendings. Rounds are a lot like in Nashville except that x-rays are read by holding films up to the light and, of course, everything is in Spanish. Also, an epidemiologist joins us, and sometimes a dentist, though they rarely contribute to the discussion. It is amazing what an international language medicine is. Even with my limited Spanish skills I can follow, and occasionally contribute to, rounds with relative ease.

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