Government continues to make suicide prevention a priority – Ministers tell National Assembly during debate of Opposition motion


Georgetown, August 4, 2016

The national issue of suicide and its prevention is one of the many social ills affecting society which the coalition Government has on its priority list.

Its importance has seen the establishment of a national taskforce and an inter-ministerial committee to implement the National Suicide Prevention Action Plan.

Presenting facts this evening to the National Assembly during the debate of Opposition Member, Dr. Vindyha Persaud’s motion on curbing the rise of suicide rates in 2016, Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan stated that the motion ‘steals the thunder’ of the Government on the suicide issue, since his administration has begun and continues to implement measures to curb suicide. He believes that the motion is making a very serious issue a political football and, “that is why I am very disappointed.”

Today, the National Assembly allowed for motions and private members’ business to be discussed in the House. It was under this item Dr. Persaud’s motion was debated. Defending the motion, Dr. Persaud explained that the incidence of suicide has been consistently increasing in Guyana in 2016 with the younger members of the population taking or attempting to take their lives.

Social Protection Minister Volda Lawrence detailed the programmes undertaken by her ministry to curb this issue. “Since the APNU+AFC’s ascension to office, this issue has been on the agenda of several government ministries and measures and strategies have been ongoing to deal with suicide.”

Dr. Persaud argued that the issue of unemployment over the last nine months, following the assumption to office of the new administration is one of the contributing factors fuelling the increase in suicide for 2016, but Minister Lawrence quickly debunked the statement by pointing out, “the honourable member gave no evidence in terms of persons who were unemployed over the last nine months, assuming that in the last nine months persons were sent off the job, so she needs to produce the evidence for that to be given any consideration.”

Secondly, Minister Lawrence detailed the initiatives the Ministry of Social Protection has embarked on to assist other government ministries and departments in addressing this issue. The House was told that the Men’s Affairs Bureau of the Ministry has prioritised the issue of suicide and its findings according to the National Suicide Prevention Plan of 2015-2020. This plan identifies men as more vulnerable to suicide as the males are thrice at risk.

“In wake of these findings, the Men’s Affairs Bureau has drafted a suicide prevention strategy action plan with the key focus of awareness, prevention, intervention and post-intervention. Mr. Speaker the Government is taking action and we are not asleep,” the Social Protection Minister stated.

Supporting, Dr. Persaud’s motion, opposition member. Yvonne Pearson, told the august body that the suicide issue is one that needs urgent attention and she believes that Guyana needs spiritual intervention. Pearson called on the Government to seriously consider the motion and its recommendations.

Addressing other issues to deal with suicide, Minister in the Ministry of Education Nicolette Henry told the House that, ‘this motion comes at a time when the Ministry of Public Health is already taking the lead in implementing a multi-sectoral approach in the prevention and reduction of suicide in Guyana.”

Minister Henry questioned, what data source was used to support the claims by the opposition that suicide has increased in 2016 since the motion only provides estimates of the suicide situation in Guyana for the past decade.

“Mr. Speaker having regarded the issue of suicide as a national issue the Ministry of Public Health has begun implementation of both the national suicide prevention plan and the national mental health strategy. This motion does not seek to expand the initiatives currently being implemented or considered by the Ministry of Public Health, it largely offers no idea and it is largely duplicative of the efforts at this time.”

Dr. Vishwa Mahadeo, opposition Member of Parliament in support of his colleague’s motion, explained that suicide is preventable and it has become a national and global issue, adding that stigma and discrimination has led to its rise. He called on the administration to have timely interventions.

Minister in the Ministry of Public Health, Dr. Karen Cummings informed the House that early January 2016, President David Granger summoned a meeting to address the issue of suicide and chart a strategic course in dealing with it.

Dr. Cummings explained that  a number of measures have been put in place to control the access and use of pesticides, and the Ministry of Public Health has partnered with the Pesticides and Toxic Chemicals Control Board of the Ministry of Agriculture.

“Storage cabinets with locks for pesticides were manufactured and distributed to farmers in the major farming communities in the country, educational and awareness programmes have been ongoing and the pesticide board has been working with the Guyana Revenue Authority to monitor the illegal use and trade of pesticides,” Dr. Cummings explained.

A national suicide help line was also established and managed by the trained officers of the Guyana Police Force.

Following the debate the motion was denied, since the Government has already embarked on bold steps to address the issue of suicide as told to the National Assembly by ministers of Government.