No room for dictatorial approach in management of COVID 19- Public Health Specialist

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…advises eligible persons to take WHO approved vaccines

Dr. Van West-Charles served as Minister of Health, Water, Environment and Housing; PAHO/WHO Representative and Area Manager; CEO of Guyana Water Inc (GWI); among other titles.

Dr. Richard Van West-Charles

Q- Is Guyana in a public health crisis?

A-    Yes. This pandemic has contributed in a large measure to a shift in resources within the health sector. Coupled with the flooding which would have also contributed to other risks such as dengue and leptospirosis and we do know of the prevalence of filarial. We have not been able to witness an integrated approach to the overall management.


When a preeminent strategy of COVID is access to water and sanitation and at the same time the Guyana Water Inc is reducing access in many communities it is telling that the Central Board of Health is not doing the analysis which is needed, and the words of the Ministry of Health are not in sync with their actions by all relevant agencies related to the preventative strategies regarding COVID

Q-   How do you see the state of the pandemic and government’s policies and programmes in response to the pandemic?

A-    As I consider the status of the pandemic, we all should agree that it is a national security matter which requires all hands-on deck and there is no place and time for political partisanship. Hence, the resistance by the government by not including the political opposition and other partners in the society has contributed in great measure to the degree of vaccine hesitancy.

The pandemic requires understanding and actions on behalf of all sectors of the society and the public at large. It requires the government to be transparent       and ready to share information with the general public and health care professionals.

 The government has only shared some of the raw data and by now should have given the public some level of analysis regarding the distribution of the             infection and also some of the determinants of those patients who have died. They have not sought it necessary to communicate with the public. As a matter     of fact, they have ignored the right of citizens to know which vaccines would have been available and also the level of testing which should have been done     was not done.  

Q-The reopening of in-classroom schools is on Monday. What measures need to be put in place to guarantee safety and health of children outside of vaccinating the children who are eligible?

A– I am glad you are considering the other factors which are a sine qua non in terms of the preparedness for the reopening of schools. It requires a layered approach and constant monitoring of the environment. I want to say however that for the students under 12 years strict adherence to the guidelines is vital. The factors which are relevant can be categorised as follows:  Safe Environment which reduces transmission thus consideration of (i) the transportation; (ii) classrooms; (iii) nutrition of the students; (iv) most important water and sanitation in schools.

(1) The schools must be ready and declared safe by ensuring that the classrooms are organised to respond to the social distancing guidelines.

(2) The classrooms must be sanitised daily, and the desks and other areas wiped frequently during the day.

(3)  The ventilation of the classroom should be checked and fitted with filters as far as possible especially where there are not many windows

(4) All children must be taught to wear their masks and masks should be worn during class.

(5) The school must be prepared to be operational with a hybrid model especially if any child is confirmed as being infected it means that there has been exposure by the rest and to be on the safe side children from that class should be sent home but continue their learning virtually. If some students do not have access to the internet, then the Ministry of Education must plan for this eventuality.

(6) Research has shown that testing of the school population on a weekly basis has reduced transmission by 50%. Hence, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health should conduct the same form of safety and epidemiological purposes. For this to happen the Ministry working along with the Teachers Union should have educational sessions which are evaluated to ensure the teaching staff understand the critical elements of transmission.

Q– Your reaction to proposed lock out of teachers who are not vaccinated or could show a negative covid test

A-    Let me say the Ministries of Health and Education should have resource personnel to be meeting with unvaccinated teachers to address their concerns regarding vaccination. Unvaccinated teachers must give a commitment to adhere to the public health guidelines within the school and the classrooms to which they are assigned.

If the Ministries understand transmission of the virus, it would explore how the unvaccinated teachers can function within the school system to make the new paradigm effective and operational. The response of the Ministries CANNOT be to lock them out. However, as I said earlier testing of the school population meaning students, teachers and workers is vital to the reduction of transmission of the virus. 

Q- Do you think public sector workers, including teachers, should be paying for COVID test as required by government? Please provide reason (s) for your answer

A-    My answer would be No. The Occupational Safety and Health Act, Section 47 clearly sets out the responsibility of employers especially for medical surveillance. Hence the cost of the tests should not be borne by the teachers and as stated earlier the entire school population should be tested and this cost should be borne by the Government.


Q-What are your views on taking the vaccine and the government mandating vaccination?


A- As a Public Health professional, I would encourage everyone to take required doses of World Health Organisation approved vaccines to achieve full vaccination. There may be a few persons who may not be recommended to take the vaccine and that recommendation and guidance should come from their physician. I do not believe that there is room for a dictatorial approach in the public health strategy as it relates to COVID 19. Today we are clear that for each of the vaccines there will be the need for boosters.

Unless we all have a good understanding of the transmission and the emergence of variants of the virus and the greater efficiency of transmission by the variants, we shall revisit the problem of hesitancy in relation to the boosters. Moreso it is not an either or situation regarding transmission of the virus and its variants. Hence, to be dictatorial on one leg of the strategy indicates the weakness in the understanding by the Government regarding the transmission of the virus.

To be continued next week- “Gov’t non-transparency, non-inclusivity impact degree of vaccine hesitancy”

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