AS the novel coronavirus continues its global rampage claiming millions of lives, the Government of Guyana has insisted that it will continue to invest whatever is necessary to safeguard the lives of all Guyanese.
Already, during the first half of the year, more than $2 billion has been spent on expanding the National Vaccination Programme and ensuring that enough COVID-19 vaccines are procured to inoculate every eligible person. So far, over 40 per cent of the entire population has been fully vaccinated against the deadly virus.
The Ministry of Finance’s Mid-Year report indicated that barring further supply-chain challenges, an additional $2.1 billion could be required to facilitate achieving high levels of immunity within the adult population.
“This vaccination programme alone is anticipated to place an additional call on the Treasury by approximately 0.3 per cent of [the country’s] GDP [Gross Domestic Product],” the report specified.
Additionally, in 2020, the government expended some $16.7 billion on its COVID-19 response. Of that figure, $7.1 billion was related specifically to preparing and further boosting the capacity of the health sector, representing 13.9 per cent of total health sector spending.
“This included outfitting the annex to the GPHC [Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation] in Liliendaal to adequately receive and treat moderate to severe COVID-19 cases,” the report said.
It noted too that during 2021, at least $7 billion was expended on the initial phases of the COVID-19 cash grant programme which, by the end of it, is expected to see each household benefitting from a one-off grant of $25,000 to help cushion the socio-economic impact of the pandemic.
“Additional sums were expended to procure sanitising agents, personal protective equipment, ventilators, and other necessary equipment and supplies. Government also received external in-kind support from bilateral partners including China, India, and Colombia in the form of personal protective equipment, ventilators, and vaccines, among others,” the mid-year report indicated.
The recently released document also pointed to the fact that frontline workers were also afforded risk allowances, while workers continued to receive their on-call allowance. To further supplement the human resource needs, the government also pursued the temporary employment of retired healthcare workers.
“To address the challenge of inadequate drugs and medical supplies, government has also undertaken to procure sufficient quantities of same to ensure stock availability into 2022, at minimum,” the report indicated.
HYPERTENSION AND DIABETES
It further outlined that the expenditure pressure to respond to COVID-19 is further complicated by the fact that increased resources had to be directed towards combating Non-Communicable Diseases, since those who suffer from these chronic ailments, such as diabetes and hypertension, are more likely to develop severe symptoms, should they contract the coronavirus.
The data thus far shows that COVID-19 related deaths are more prevalent in persons who already suffer from hypertension. As a matter of fact, more than 30 per cent of those who die from the coronavirus are hypertensive.
Similarly, with more than 28 per cent of coronavirus patients who died were those suffering from type-II diabetes.
“As a pre-emptive strategy to attempt to minimise deaths, government has prioritised intensifying its Non-Communicable Diseases Programme in order to increase screening and treatment of persons with co-morbidities and to promote healthier lifestyles. This will serve to improve the immune responses of citizens to better protect against severe symptoms of COVID-19 and complications arising from comorbidities, should they contract the disease,” the report said. These measures, it outlined, are in addition to the vaccination programme which encourages specifically, persons with comorbidities, to get vaccinated as an urgent safety precaution.
As it is, 99 per cent of all coronavirus-related deaths are persons who have not been vaccinated. As unfortunate as the figures may be, it also points to the fact that the vaccines being administered locally are working, and have been efficient in safeguarding the majority of vaccinated persons from hospitalisation and death.
Appearing on a previous edition of ‘Let’s Talk Politics,’ hosted by Michael Gordon, Health Adviser to the Dr. Irfaan Ali-led government, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, related that even though large numbers of persons have already been vaccinated, these figures are not large enough.
This is despite the fact that Guyana is one of the very few countries that have managed to secure enough vaccines for its entire adult and adolescent populations. As a matter of fact, Guyana is also among the very few and fortunate developing countries that have commenced the vaccination of its adolescents.
Delving further into the local COVID-19 statistics, the former health minister said that over 95 per cent of all positive COVID-19 cases are persons who have not been vaccinated. Even further, Dr. Ramsammy said that data shows that 98 per cent of the people who end up being hospitalised, whether in wards or within the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), are persons who are unvaccinated.
“Ninety-nine per cent of the people who die are unvaccinated,” Dr. Ramsammy reaffirmed.
The former health minister went further to implore political leaders, particularly those within the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC), to join in the fight against the COVID-19 and encourage members of their constituencies to get vaccinated.
Dr. Ramsammy said that while he is happy that the leadership of the APNU+AFC has taken their vaccines, he wants them to desist from encouraging the “my body, my choice” argument, and assist by informing “antivaxxers” about the need to be vaccinated, and for vaccination, and the role vaccines play in ensuring that the world be able to safely exit the ongoing pandemic.
“When political leaders support the ‘your body, your choice’, that is reckless, irresponsible and double-speak; we must not double speak,” Dr. Ramsammy posited, adding: “We all must do the right thing; political leaders must not play games.”
It is hoped that once more than 80 per cent of the population is immunised, Guyana would be well on its way to achieving herd immunity and returning to some level of normalcy.
Nonetheless, the report said that given the unpredictability of the disease’s progression, the scale and menu of responses and related costs remain highly unpredictable. The document outlined that as a result, the fiscal deficit of central government is anticipated to deteriorate, as additional outlays become required to preserve and protect the lives of all in Guyana.