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Govt, opposition exchange ‘prescriptions’ for reducing maternal deaths

Government and the parliamentary opposition were Thursday at odds over the apparent increase in maternal deaths in the last six months and the way they are being addressed.

Reacting to a claim by Shadow Health Minister, Dr. Frank Anthony that a baby was badly injured because doctors at Suddie Hospital had decided that the mother should not undergo a Caesarian Section although that procedure had been earlier recommended, Public Health Minister Dr. George Norton vowed that the incident would not be swept under the carpet.  “I can tell you: that ain’t go down easy. Nothing is going to be hidden under the carpet,” he said.

The minister cautioned Anthony against commenting on whether a Caesarian Section was needed without having full knowledge of the particular condition.

Norton said the major reason for maternal deaths has been late transfers to the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC). “Basically what we find is the late referral to the Georgetown Public Hospital of high-risk mothers to be and that generally is the case.

If we can get those high-risk patients earlier to the Georgetown Public Hospital from the outlying areas then we might be in a better position to save some of the lives but I can tell you there are some which we have a very difficult time of saving in the best of conditions,” Norton told Demerara Waves Online News.

Latest statistics show that there were 19 maternal deaths last year, five between January and April 2015 and six between May and November to date, 2015. However, Norton rejected suggestions that the rate of maternal deaths has increased during the last six months, saying that it is “always undulating” rather than at a plateau. More than one year ago, Guyana recorded low marks in achieving the United Nations Millenium Development Goal of reducing maternal mortality.

The Public Health Minister said the assessment of mothers-to-be, which begins at the Community Health Worker system, depends on the expectant mothers seeking early maternal care and management and throughout their pregnancy.

The People’s Progressive Party Civic’s (PPP) spokesman on Health said there was no evidence of any probe and improvement bit instead there appeared to be a cover-up. “After each death, you have different levels of reviews so at the hospital there is a review, then the Ministry of Health would do a review, then they set up an expert committee to do a review but the findings that would come out of these reviews should inform how you would change the sysyem so you don’t have a recurrence,” said Anthony. “In many cases, these findings are not published, the corrective actions are not taken and therefore you have a repeat of the process so we are not learning perhaps from our mistakes and that is something that we need to fix and unless we fix that we are going to have maternal deaths,” he added.

On the issue of whether each maternal mortality death was being investigated and the recommendations accepted to avoid recurrences, the Public Health Minister assured that the system inherited from the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC)-led administration has not been scrapped and was being improved. “We are not reinventing the wheel. There is a system in place and we haven’t done anything and wouldn’t do anything except to improve on that system that is in place,” he said.

Former Health Minister, Gail Teixeira explained that the system includes the provision of quarterly reports from all public and private health facilities to the Ministry of Health and the improvements of management to reduce and prevent maternal deaths.

Norton explained that investigations were being conducted into each maternal death by a specialist committee to map the way forward.

Citing budgetary constraints, the Public Health Minister recognised the need for 40 instead of six foetal monitors and more suctions. “We know for a fact that we will account for every single cent that the Finance Ministry given to the health sector,” he said.

The cabinet under the PPPC-led administraion had established a sub-committee on maternal deaths to ascertain what were the weaknesses and whether there had been need for more resources.