World Health Day 2023 message by the National NCD Commission

The theme for World Health Day (WHD) 2023 is Health for All. As we observe WHD 2023, the World Health Organization (WHO) is celebrating its 75th anniversary. The governments of the world signed an agreement and the World Health Organization began its work on April 7, 1948.

The NCD Commission in Guyana extends our congratulations to the WHO. The WHO has been steadfast in promoting better health for all and the WHO, 75 years after, has continued its mission of Health for All. The NCD Commission of Guyana will continue to work alongside the WHO to ensure we achieve the goals of Health for All for the Guyanese people.

World Health Day 2023 is a special one for Guyana. The NCD Commission is pleased to see that Guyana’s President issued a World Health Day message. He is, therefore, one of the few heads of state that have ever issued a special World Health Day message. We are proud that Guyana’s President and Government have made it clear that Health for All is the epicenter of Guyana’s development strategy 2030.

The NCD Commission continues to advocate for more action to address the social determinants of health. Without a robust campaign to address the social determinants of health, we cannot envision the empowerment of people so they can live peaceful, prosperous, and fulfilling lives. No development strategy is effective or can be effective if at the center of the strategy it does not cater to individuals and communities to have access to quality health services to enable them to take care of their own and their families’ health.

The Government of Guyana has increased significantly the health investment, with more than a doubling of the per capita investment in health between WHD 2020 and WHD 2023. At least seven new hospitals have already started construction and all existing hospitals will be re-developed. The physical and technological infrastructure of the public health sector is being transformed. Human resource transformation has also begun. A telemedicine program is linking people from the most remote communities to doctors at GPHC. The NCD Commission is encouraged by these developments.

For WHD 2023, we urge the Ministry of Health and the government and, specifically, appeal to President Irfaan Ali, to escalate and elevate the strategies and actions to manage and control cancers in our country.

We are aware of specific actions the government has embarked on with Mount Sinai of New York and with the Chinese Medical Brigade to elevate the cancer response programs in Guyana. We feel Guyana can, indeed, do more to elevate the cancer response to protect our people.

We are disappointed that the education and awareness program and the strategies to lift the HPV vaccination among boys and girls appear stagnated and little effort is being made to improve HPV vaccination coverage. Equally, we are disappointed that HPV testing is still very inaccessible in Guyana. HPV testing is critical for Guyana to identify persons at risk for cervical cancer and for other cancers. We are hopeful that the NCD Commission will not have to remind the MOH how important the need for more actions to elevate HPV vaccination and testing when WHD 2024 comes around.

In 2021, 2022, and now in 2023, the NCD Commission advocated for more robust testing for HBA1c in primary health care. We are disappointed that HBA1c testing is still difficult to access in the public health sector. Very few persons have access to HBA1c testing in health posts and health centers and in district hospitals. Disappointingly, very few people have access to HBA1c testing in Regional Hospitals still as we observe WHD 2023. We urge the MOH to correct this lapse long before WHD 2024. This is an example to show that Health for All is still an illusion. We must work towards genuine reduction of health inequity, and this is one way to do so.

Food and Nutrition remain a major strategy in the fight against both NCDs and Infectious Diseases. Our children are still exposed to unhealthy food and our efforts to mitigate the problem remain timid. Front of the Package labeling cannot be yet another slogan. We must advocate and ensure that it happens. Salty, sugary, ultra-proceed foods are killing us and we remain on the sidelines as bad food kills more of us than any infectious pandemic has ever done.

More than 74% of our deaths are now due to the NCDs. More than 32% of all NCD deaths are premature. There is an opportunity for us in Guyana to do more. We congratulate the MOH for the launching of the Diabetic Center at Lusignan. This is a significant action. While we are grateful that the MOH has recently launched the Diabetic Center of Excellence at Lusignan, we must ensure quality diabetic services reach all citizens in Guyana. The last Diabetic Treatment and Care Guidelines, Edition 3, was published in 2008. Since then, no amendment has been made. We congratulate the Honourable Minister for his personal

leadership to ensure that the Guidelines are updated to include many new innovations in the new guideline, which is being developed with support from Mount Sinai.

Guyana is a signatory to the SDGs. Goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals, is ‘Ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages.’ Target 3.5 was pledged to strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance use, a major public health problem globally. Substance abuse significantly impacts the development of young people and can compromise their educational paths, work lives, and contribution to society. Guyana needs a health-centered approach to control substance abuse. We continue to lag behind in our response to substance abuse. We urge the MOH to embrace the UNODC/WHO strategy in our overall response to a problem that continues to grow.

The MOH has announced an innovative program to deal with vision and hearing for school children. We are supportive of these programs and will work alongside the MOH to ensure that all children have an opportunity to succeed in school and in their communities without being impeded because of vision and hearing losses.

The NCD Commission wishes everyone a healthy 2023 and reiterates our commitment to advocate for more and better programs for a healthier Guyana and for Health for All.