Dr Narendra Singh
Guyana Help the Kids is now in the process of finalizing plans to expand operations from its current focus on Guyana to other territories within the Eastern Caribbean. The planned expansion, which is being targeted for 2019 implementation, will have as its foundation the valuable lessons learned and experience gained from GHTK’s activities in Guyana over the last nine years since its 2009 founding.
Lessons Learned in Guyana
We have gained some invaluable lessons from our experience working in Guyana to develop the Neonatal and Pediatirc Programs. Much of that learning has come from some mistakes that we have made and the many successes that we have had in the process. Engaging the Government, identifying common goals and defining responsibilities was crucial to the success of any program. Achieving these goals without having a vision of sustainability would have been a sure prescription for failure. Our experience tells us today that education and ownership have to be the two pillars of sustainability. We have been successful in educating numerous outstanding physicians and nurses who have taken the responsibility of owning these programs while taking great pride in ensuring that the programs maintain the highest quality. The Government of Guyana has also assumed ownership of the majority of the programs, at least from a financial perspective. Though our work in not yet done in Guyana, we feel confident of the need to now expand our activities to other Caribbean countries with similar needs.
Expansion into the Caribbean
We feel that a natural progression should be into the Caribbean, given the similarities in culture language and the largely identical challenges. We have approached the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) since they are a natural conduit to gain access to the Governments and the Health sector of the islands.
The OECS is made up of 10 islands in the Caribbean. It is an Inter-Governmental Organization dedicated to economic harmonization and integration, protection of human and legal rights, and the encouragement of good governance among independent and non-independent countries of the Eastern Caribbean. We have engaged Dr. Carlene Radix who is the Health lead of the OECS in a strategic partnership to identify the needs of the region and to develop a plan forward to address these challenges.
Challenges Faced by the Islands
Dr. Radix facilitated a video-conference meeting with hospital representatives and neonatal caregivers from some of the islands, during which time we had an opportunity to listen to the challenges and gaps in the care provided to babies within the region. Our general impression is that are interested in working GHTK and other partners to elevate the level of care provided for the region’s high risk babies. The challenges they face include but are not limited to the following: (1) Very few NICU Nurses in the Caribbean with no local training program (2) There is no Neonatologist but a number of pediatricians that were trained several years ago (3) There is inadequate functional neonatal equipment with limited biomedical support (4) There are often shortages of essential drugs and consumable items( 5) Critically ill babies are often transferred overseas at very significant costs to the respective governments.
In light of the need to address these identified challenges, the OECS Commission has decided to engage a number of partners to form an alliance to adress maternal and neonatal issues in the OECS. The Alliance’s mandate will be to address the many challenges facing the OECS in their desire to provide the highest standard of neonatal care. Representatives from the OECS Member States, GHTK, and World Pediatric Project (WPP) are some of the partners being considered. In the meantime GHTK is working with the OECS Health Unit to implement the following plans
- NURSING: Development of a Local Neonatal Nursing Program. Our plan is to begin the program in August 2019.
- PHYSICIANS: We will be starting monthly webinars with current practices in Neonatal Care. In addition, we have opened the pediatric residency program in Guyana to any physician from the Islands.
- EQUIPMENT/DRUGS/CONSUMABLES: We will work with the OECS to harmonise types of equipment for pooled purchasing and better shared biomedical support as well as ensure that the current OECS PPS pooled procurement mechanism for medications and medical products for neonates
- NEONATAL NETWORK: More longtem, GHTK will work with OECS and the alliance of partners in order to develop a network of care. This network aims to combat the high cost of transferring babies overseas. A neonatal network can be developed in which one or two islands can function as Tertiary Care Centres for high risk babies. To facilitate this network, an inter-island Neonatal Transport system will also need to be developed to ensure safe and efficient transfer of high risk mothers and critically ill babies.
The major lesson learned in Guyana was that success of this program hinges on developing a partnership with the Government to ensure that there is a shared vision and a delegation of responsibilities. To this end, I would like to thank our Council General from Guyana, Anyin Choo for facilitating a presentation to the Council Generals of all of the Caribbean Islands. After our presentation, they were all very positive about the plan and volunteered to help us in our efforts to engage the local Diaspora. They also agreed to facilitate required meetings with their respective governments. After this very favourable reception, I am confident that we are on the correct path for GTHK’s expansion.
An engagement with the Canadian Caribbean Diaspora will be fundamental to GHTK’s required expansion of its donor base, as it seeks to acquire the financial support that will be necessary to fulfill its plans. Towards this end, GHTK will be embarking on several new and exciting public awareness activities in the months ahead.
Exciting times now lie ahead for GHTK. Exciting times which will also be filled with beckoning opportunities for all to become involved in GHTK’s expansion plans. I invite you to come be a part of what promises to be an interesting and fulfilling journey for all involved!