Remarks by Hon. Volda Lawrence, M.P., Minister of Public Health For Workshop on Cancer Diagnosis and Management Tuesday May 16, 2017
I wish to thank my predecessors, Dr. Shamdeo Persaud and Dr. Adu-Krow for situating this workshop within the context of the Ministry of Public Health’s priority plan to strengthen national efforts to address the spate of non-communicable diseases and in particular the high incidence of cancers. The World Health Organization, the International Monitoring Agency for NCDs has revealed the startling data that NCDs are the leading cause of deaths worldwide accounting for eighty-two (82%) of all deaths in humans. The statistics further substantiate that all groups and all regions are affected, that high-income and more so medium and low income countries are all at risk by NCDs (some twenty-eight million deaths in low and medium income countries).
Guyana is no different and is just as vulnerable because NCDs, including cancers, are the main cause of morbidity and mortality in the country. According to our cancer data, during the period 2003- 2012, 6,518 cancers were recorded with an annual incidence rate of 87.3 per 100,000 populations, and the number of females affected being 3,956 (60.7%) while the males affected amounted to 2,561 representing (39.3%). Recent statistics are not yet available, but if we were to judge by the trend over the ten-year period, then we have every reason to worry. Our need to intervene becomes even more imperative and to my mind, the timing of this workshop is opportune. We have to respond effectively and promptly to the threat of NCDs inclusive of cancers and seek ways to eliminate the preventable loss of life.
As I peruse the objectives and the expected outcomes of the workshop, I have noted that the focus is centered on building the capacity of the doctors to screen, diagnose and effectively and appropriately treat persons with cancers with a vision of improving the performance of the health care team and patient outcomes in cancer care and treatment. The expectation is that medical personnel, at the end of the workshop, will be more knowledgeable about early detection, diagnosis and treatment of common cancers as well as palliative care and will be in a better position to impact on the prevention and control of NCDs in Guyana and reduce morbidity and mortality from cancers. I have no doubt that the goal of this workshop is achievable since we have a core of eminent specialists as resource persons, experts in their various oncological fields and a team of eager participants passionate for the knowledge and expertise that will enable them to strengthen the overall health sector by improving the diagnosis and management of cancers. I envisage that the interchange of ideas will be top-notch, stimulating and invaluable in charting the way forward and therefore, if you will permit me, I would like on behalf of the Government of Guyana and the Ministry of Public Health to warmly welcome you to Guyana and to express our deep appreciation for your support and collaboration. It will be remiss of me if I were not to acknowledge the invaluable contribution of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and World Health Organization (WHO) to the Ministry of Public Health. We thank you for your input and advocacy in helping the Ministry to address the challenging health issues that beset us.
I would like to briefly share with you my reflections on the incidence of NCDs and cancers within the Guyana context. The prevalence of these diseases is threatening the human resource which is so pivotal to the social and economic sustainability of our country. Therefore our response to the WHO’s appeal for measures to reduce the modifiable risk factors for NCDs and underlying social determinants, through the creation of health-promoting environments must be channeled at every level of our population throughout the length and breadth of our country. Our intervention for the prevention and control of NCDs and cancers must be strategic and robust, innovative policies must be designed and implemented to impact the gaps and strengthen the health systems.
So even as you our medical professionals are involved in the acquisition of the requisite knowledge, detailing the steps to combat, treat and manage the disease, we must have an agenda for our people. They too need to have an understanding of the challenges of cancers. Too many of us, I believe, remain aloof, ignorant of the real facts until we or a member of our family are affected. The words cervical, prostrate, uterine, colon, staging screening, biopsy are absent from our parlance. Our half-hearted response is premised on the fact that it does not concern us, so need to learn; but erroneous and short-sighted are we if we choose not to become au fait with the basic facts. We have to allow the information to filter down to the ordinary folk.
For my part, I believe that we have to re-examine our Action Plan, we have to evaluate the impact we have made on the modifiable risk factors by studying the data and set new indicators that can bring about effective changes in behaviors, lifestyles, and environment that are related to the NCDs and cancers. We have to mobilize and encourage persons in all 10 Administrative Region to embrace strategies for control and prevention of cancers. We have to teach them to self-examine, to have regular check-ups to exercise and to eat nutritiously.
As I conclude, I want to reiterate the need for a comprehensive plan. We must collectively synchronize and synergize our efforts at every level of our society. Best wishes for a successful three-day workshop and my heartfelt gratitude to the visiting Team.