Nothing new for the public health sector
national budget, as presented by Minister of Finance, Mr. Winston Jordan, on November 27th, does not bring much comfort of relief to the masses through its general thrust and provisions, but more particularly also fails to do so in the vital area of Public Health. No major new investments in Public Health Infrastructure has been announced.
The main highlights in the relevant Public Health segment of the APNU+AFC 2018 budget presentation simply regurgitates the lofty achievements of the PPP/C and plagiarizes other PPP/C-era well structured transformational infrastructural and human resource development initiatives which were on the cusp of being rolled out. For instance, the continued deployment to the recently constructed Regional Hospitals and Regional Health Centers of more and more graduate medical doctors and medical specialists, products of the Jagdeo/Castro Health Agreement of February 2006. The Coalition barefacedly attempts to lay claim to these as its new initiatives for 2018.
Remove 14% VAT on Health Services
Minister Winston Jordon boasts that some 7% more will be spent in 2018 on the Sector than in 2017. That is to say, G$33.3 Billion or 12.5 % of the total 2018 Budget. He failed to remind the nation that the PPP/C for years always maintained a similar percentage of spending on the Health Sector.
He further failed to indicate the size of the slice of this “7%” which will go towards supporting the 14% VAT on Health Services. This will nibble away at the “7 per cent more” boast. Recall that the Public Health Sector, too, must incorporate this cost into its procurement costs for Medicines and Medical Services and Dietary Supplies. How big indeed is the “real percentage increase” in Health Sector projected expenditure for 2018?
Minister Jordan announced the withdrawal of the 14% VAT on Education Services. This is a direct victory of organized and sustained peaceful protests.
Perhaps it’s time for Minister Winston Jordan to withdraw the 14% VAT on Health Services, too. This would then make his Budget Speech “7% increase” in the projected 2018 Public Health Sector expenditure less deceptive.
Among the biggest boasts of significant expenditure on health sector infrastructure Mr. Jordan spends much time and effort on the procurement of a mammography machine for the Georgetown Public Hospital. This is a vital piece of equipment. But what Jordon failed to tell the Nation is that this machine -- and other similar pieces of vital equipment - would have already been in the Public Health Sector at the visionary PPP/C India Government funded Specialty Hospital at Liliandaal.
So that — to quote Mr. Jordan from the same second paragraph : “Screening for breast cancer no longer needs to be outsourced at great cost to the patients.” Would have already been a routine reality.
APNU-AFC Plagiarizing PPP/C Projects
Minister Jordon lays claim to another signal achievement of the Jagdeo era. Minister Jordon said: “In 2017, we added an additional 9 medical Specialists to Region No 1 and No 2.” He, of course, is herein referring to the “Jagdeo Scholars” trained in Cuba under the Jagdeo/Castro initiative of February I mentioned earlier.
What Minister Jordon also failed to to tell the Nation and which we must recall is that these Jagdeo Scholars he “added” to Regions 1 & 2 are in the main functioning at two modern Regional Hospitals “built, equipped and staffed” by the Jagdeo Administration with funds provided by the CDB. These are the Lethem Regional Hospital and the Mabaruma Regional Hospital. They, so to speak, are “twins”.
The project to “build, equip and staff” the hospitals at Lethem and Mabaruma was a deliberate effort by the PPP/C to bring modern Health Services to these two important Hinterland communities. This CDB-assisted Project coincided with the similar effort to construct, equip and staff the now well recognized four Diagnostic and Treatment Centers at Diamond, Leonora, Suddie and Mahaicony; along with the prestigious National Ophthalmological Hospital at Port Mourant. These were funded totally by GOG money.
New Hospitals Built By The PPP/C Ro Modernize Health Sector
These new, modern hospitals were intended to upgrade and modernize the Guyana Health Sector which had not seen significant infrastructure upgrade for decades. They were also seen as the “first phase” of such modernization with a “second phase” already on the drawing board to raise the bar even higher with the introduction of specialist facilities. This “first phase” was also designed to support the need for these modern services in emerging new growth-poles such as the Diamond New Housing Scheme and other nearby new housing schemes on the EBD and the other consequences of the massive expansion of the EBD Highway itself, for which funding and project design had already been secured by the PPP/C Administration.
Diamond (Hospital) is a gem. It has justified the investment and vision. Like the other four Diagnostic and Treatment Centers and the CDB twins.
The current and abiding failure of the APNU+AFC Coalition to build on this base and to realize the full potential of the PPP/C vision for the Public Health Sector is patent. This failure is evident in the repeating failures in Minister Jordan’s several Budgets to date to capture sustained Health Sector infrastructure development for “impact and return on the dollar”. The Minister’s lamentation in his budget speech that the sector confronts “...... continued stress on the National Referral Hospital; health infrastructure deficits ....... are but a few of them” can easily be remedied. However, nowhere in his Budget is this key approach seen to be supported by the requisite finding. Only tinkering. And attempts to “own” PPP/C-era projects and achievements. “Stress on the National Referral Hospital” - by this is meant the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation - was expected to be totally addressed by the PPP/C vision of a 100 bed In-Patient Ward added to the existing “Phase One” Diamond Hospital.
The design specifically reserved a large piece of vacant land in the compound for the “building, equipping and staffing” of this complementary facility. It would have catered for female, male and paediatric patients in separate wards. It was specifically envisioned that it would also remove the “stress on the National Referral Hospital”.
Change the Budget. Needed Urgently - In-Patient Wards at Diamond
This is a failure of Health Sector leadership compounded by lack of a larger vision in the Cabinet. It also reflects another failure — a poor governance posture. Recall that all of these projects — including the Diamond Hospital - were very high profile, very public projects. I repeatedly and extensively informed the nation on them through Parliament, other official public fora and the media — especially TV. But more importantly — practically ALL the senior technical and administrative staff which was engaged and involved in the Diamond project are either at fraternal Ministries or mostly still at the Ministry of Health. The only change has been cosmetic — now the “Ministry of Public Health”.
The need for a large multi ward in-patient building at the Diamond Hospital is urgent. The two current and the one recent Ministers of Public Health need to get their act together. Enough of cosmetic name changes. Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan, needs to take a page out of the notebook his teacher, Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo, left him at the Ministry of Finance. Mr. Jordan needs to urgently get back to the drawing-board. Change the Budget. Make it people-friendly. He needs to allocate adequate funds to “build, equip and staff 100 bed in-Patient facility at the East Bank Regional Hospital at Diamond?