Social Services and Public Health Ministries join forces to support mothers of children born with microcephaly

GEORGETOWN, MOPH –  The Ministries of Social Protection (MOSP) and Public Health (MOPH) have teamed up to support 16 mothers with children born with microcephaly from five Regions across the country Social Services Director, Mr. Wentworth Tanner announced.

MOSP official Tanner said some $3.5M have been budgeted for the children in Essequibo Islands/West Demerara (Region Three); Demerara/Mahaica (Region Four); Mahaica/ Berbice (region Five); Cuyuni/Mazaruni (region Seven) and Upper Demerara/Berbice (region Ten).

The support package was concluded after a two-year discussion between officials of the two sides and “caters for the possibility of other children” who might be born with microcephaly, Tanner assured. He said funding will be sourced from the MOSP Social Assistance programme

The idea was the brainchild of Public Health Minister, Ms. Volda Lawrence.

Financial support was officially put in the fiscal estimates for the first time this year for families with children born with the medical condition, because the two government ministries  “noted the urgent need to assist parents and the children suffering with microcephaly,” the document on the issue said.

Microcephaly is a rare condition associated with mild to severe developmental delays and disability. It is a result of a baby’s brain not developing properly during pregnancy or being damaged at some point during pregnancy.

Babies can be born with microcephaly, or it can be developed in the first few years, according to research findings.

As part of the regime of treatment, children with the condition must visit specialists such as pediatricians, speech pathologists, occupational therapists or physiotherapists depending on the severity of their condition.

The ministries have stepped in to help because “treatment is usually expensive”, according to the  MOSP document and Deputy Social Services Director, Ms Abeke Benjamin-Samuels detailing the collaboration between the two state agencies.

MOPH Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Officer (ag) Dr Oneka Scott said in 2019 the two Ministries will seek further collaboration from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO); the Maternal Child Support Programme (MSCP) and civil society “to look into ways the ministries can improve the  quality of life of these children living with microcephaly”.

Dr Scott has lauded the innovations of some parents of who she described as very bold and have spearheaded projects such as a diaper drive “which is proving very helpful,”

“Those children will always need pampers and supplemental nutrients and other things for longer than the average child their age,” Scott said.

The MOSP document explained that children born with the condition experience a range of difficulties including: seizures; hearing loss; vision and feeding problems, including swallowing; movement and balance challenges; decreased ability to learn and function on a day-today basis; and developmental delays such as speech, sitting, standing and walking difficulties. the ministry is committed to provide the necessary support through the Public Assistance programme for the families, as the babies will often need close follow-up through regular check-ups with a healthcare provider to monitor their growth and development,” the MOSP document said.

It said that after an initial assessment recommendation will be made for both mother and child “to be placed on the permanently disabled list as microcephaly is a lifelong process rendering the mother incapable of having a fulltime job and in many cases, no job at all”.

In a past interview on the issue with the Department of Public Information (DPI), popular youth media journalist, Ms. Andrea Bryan-Garner, whose child was born with microcephaly, was forthright about the emotional capital she had to expend.

For Bryan-Garner the thought was “a bitter pill to swallow”.

Nevertheless, the psycho-social support provided by the Mental Health Unit of the MOPH  has been a boon for the young mother, who is taking full advantage of the rehabilitation and other services available for her and her toddler who has developmental delays, suffer with seizures and vision problems.

Another mother, Ms. Putlana Dos Santos who also spoke with DPI, spoke of her emotional and financial strain because of the lack of backing from the child’s father.

“It’s a little rough but I love my son … my family, they try their best to brace me and so far, the government has been helping,” Dos Santos said.

Like Bryan-Garner, she is also grateful for the government support since her child was born with microcephaly over two years ago.

“I am getting public assistance, I’m getting help where the doctor’s call, they are concerned about his growth and development,” Dos Santos said.