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Budget Speech Dr Ramsarran - 2012

Hits: 3868 | Published Date: 12 Apr, 2012
| Speech delivered at: 9th Sitting - Tenth Parliament
| Speech Delivered by : Hon. Dr. Bheri S. Ramsarran, MP

April 12, 2012
Minister of Health [Dr.  Ramsaran]:   Mr. Speaker, thank you for this opportunity of allowing me to take part in this debate on the budget as presented by the Hon. Minister of Finance, Dr. Ashni Kumar Singh. I would like to first of all thank his team of technical persons from the Ministry of Finance who took part in this exercise. Let me hasten to remind us here, and in the wider public, and I am doing this because I have realised what has happened during the debate, that we do not seem to know how our systems work.
This budget preparation started, not last week, or two weeks ago, or even this year. The budget cycle starts, as Minister Whittaker said, practically immediately after we would have kicked into the use of this budget. Many technical persons from across the country, in the Ministries and Regions, were engaged in this process of preparing the budget, starting from as early as August of last year. That is why I take time out to congratulate them for their hard work. Many times we fail to recognise the contributions of those not seen. So while I congratulate Minister Dr. Ashni Singh, I am certain the he would agree with me that his team has done a wonderful job - the director of budget and her team and the Regional Executive Officers and their teams. As you would realise, from discussing this budget, or even the initial perusal that you would have had of it so far, the Regions too would have had to be considered because of the very political system. I want to congratulate this team for being able to present such a budget which attempts, in very difficult conditions, to, as it were,  spread the marmite equally around.
This budget is presented at a time, as the Minister of Finance and other speakers said, when Guyana finds itself in particularly difficult times internationally. Those of us who heads Ministries or those of you who know some of those difficulties would know or  recall that currently, for example, foreign funding for certain flagship programmes in various Ministries, such as the Ministry of Health, is under threat of contraction. So here again the hard work of this team in preparing this budget is valued. I would like to point out too that as I looked at it I was able to tease out certain bits and pieces of information which impressed me as to the thought that went into it to see that indeed Guyana would be getting the best bang for the dollar invested. That indeed is the key words of modernization, consolidation and decentalisation; that indeed is that they were given teeth and meaning.
In these hard times, as the various speakers, starting from the Hon. Minister Mr.  Irfaan Ali, pointed out, in these difficult times, internationally, when, for example, Guyana is on the crux of getting more and more foreign investment, direct investment, while at the same time our CARICOM neighbours are having things difficult. If I recall well the workforce, or sections of the workforce in some of those territories had to take voluntary reduction in their pay packages so as to retain jobs. We are doing well but this is a fragile time. While that is happening, the Ministry of Health has not done too badly. As a matter of fact, we have done particularly well in this period of challenges. I would like, first of all, before we get into the various items and various criticisms, and suggestions, brought up by those on the Opposition and some of the observations made by those on this side of the bench, to point out that the Ministry of Health has achieved some things that might go unnoticed and which at this early stage of my discussion I would like to mention.       [Ms. Ally: I hope you will thank Dr. Ramsammy.]       Of course, Dr. Ramsammy is special. There is continuity. This is a Government of continuity. So if, my dear, you may be quiet, you will hear and learn.
I would like to point out, for example, the hundred per cent passes among our midwives classes for this year at the New Amsterdam and Georgetown schools. We will discuss the meaning of this. We will discuss the meaning of consolidating and expanding on what we have achieved -   more midwives. I have, for example, where they come from - the widespread of where they come from, the geographical spread. It is too much to read, Mr. Minister, but I can, even without the benefit of my spectacle, identify here: Henrietta village, Essequibo, one person, there, Soesdyke, Endeavour, Leguan, Kurukuru, Matthews Ridge,  Saint Denys Mission, and so on and so forth.  This is where these successful midwifery students come from, two schools. They are going back to those communities to serve, to make motherhood safe.
This administration is not unmindful of some of the legitimate criticisms that it has had to endure. Some of them have been incurred because of poor management at the level of certain local health facilities. But let me say this: that the maternal mortality, for example, is not as we would want it but there was recent talk of the death coming out of Linden. That is unacceptable, but let me tell you this that happened early this year. For the entire last year, there was not a single death at Linden, not a maternal death. Congratulations. At the same time, for the previous year, there was one, and when the investigation was done, right up to the level of the Cabinet, one of the factors, which was found in that lost, in 2010, was insufficient storage of blood, or stocks of blood at the Linden Hospital Complex.  That has been changed.  Now, the supplies of the blood at the Linden Hospital Complex have improved, resulting in no deaths last year among our expectant mothers. We want to congratulate them for that. In the meantime, every single maternal death will be treated almost as a national concern, which it is. So far, the new dispensation demands that the officers responsible report on every maternal death to the Cabinet. That is the concerns we have.
My friends, I would like to say this budget, while it calls upon us to remain on course, has one purpose, while at the same time ensuring prosperity for all, we have also noted certain very significant gains, and should I say consolidation of gains made over the past five years, and should I say  decades.
Our vaccination programme, Mr. Minister of Finance, has benefited from your expanded allocations. I want to congratulate you for that foresight. For example, the head of this programme, or exactly the wider Maternal and Child Health programme, a very hard working public health practitioner, Dr. Woolford, again, for the third time within a short space of years, gained for Guyana accolades, this time awarded in Barbados, for having the consistent signal achievement of over ninety per cent coverage for all our children for the preventable childhood diseases. That is investment in health. Now it is intangible as my honourable friend, Mr. Norman Whittaker said, but it will be seen as they grow up, having a healthy carefree childhood and then grow into an adolescent, do well at their exams and become productive able-bodied educated citizens.
I would tell the Assembly this. We are expanding the spectre of these vaccinations. I will like to tell the Assembly this, further: Many international agencies have recognised that in other countries where they do not have such a robust programme there is the crisis of expanding deaths among children. For example, it is noted that the diarrhoeal deaths or   deaths from diarrhoeal diseases are hitting hard on certain countries, even with more robust economies than Guyana. The introduction of vaccines such as the Rotavirus has helped Guyana to avoid that negative experience.
More recently, we have even gone further to ensure that our young women will grow into healthy productive women. Our young girls are now having the possibility of receiving the vaccines against the virus, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). In Guyana it is noted that cervical cancer is among the leading causes of cancerous deaths or cancer deaths among women. We have embarked on that enlightened approach. Already it would have been seen in the newspaper… Recently there was a good photograph, and there was an interview from one of my good public practitioners, Nurse Henry, telling us about the good things of that vaccine. I am happy to say that the roll out is in progress and it has been well supported by our technical support organisations, for example, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). I would like to thank PAHO particularly and the leadership of  it in this country for assisting in, the weeks in advance,  the actual inoculation of  these young children, and  with education process.
I would like to thank the Minister of Finance for his continuous support in allowing us to expand the health infrastructure that is laying the foundation for the turnaround. In the recent past, as I was saying here, at this forum, and at various other fora, we have been able to invest in the first wave of health infrastructure - Diamond, Leonora, Suddie, Mahaicony, Mabaruma, Lethem. Those are hospitals. Then there is the special eye centre or eye hospital at Port Mourant. But then again, Mr. Speaker, if you were to look a little more in-depth at this budget you would note that there is a special provision for the specialty surgical hospital which will be built not too far from the University of Guyana, just a few minutes out of the city, some $672 million. This will be the flagship infrastructural investment for the second wave of infrastructural improvement in the health sector in Guyana. In other words, consolidating on what we have. This of course, comes from a joint effort between the Government of Guyana with a line of credit from India.  Of course, I heard the enlighten intervention from the Hon. Member Mrs. Backer when she made some extensive reference to the Brazil, Russia, India, China  (BRIC) countries, emphasising here that South Africa is now added to them and that adds on the “S” and makes it “BRICS”. She called, rightly so, for the administration to ensure that Guyana has the diplomatic wherewithal to be able to forge links with, what I might call, the non-traditional diplomatic or the non-traditional countries. Before it was the “ABC” countries - America, Britain and Canada.
Now I would like to make a quick intervention here on the specialty hospital because it is going to be key and critical. I have noticed, for example, that many people I met on my walkabout,  during the Christmas season and then, recently, during the holidays of this year, are saying that they might know… or might even have gone overseas for treatment, but when that would have been done it is a cost to the administration. It is not sustainable, if I may say through you, Mr. Speaker, to the Hon. Moses Nagamootoo. So the administration has decided to go this way and I would like to recognise the easy way in which the Indian Government supported this initiative. Of course, we must give Jack his jacket; this was one of the visionary programmes of our immediate former President, Dr.  Bharrat Jagdeo.
I would like to clear up a few misconceptions. There were a lot of noises. Some of those noises were ill-advised and uncalled for surrounding the initial stages of the preparation for this hospital. I deliberately avoided engaging, so as to avoid making the noises more resonating. In other words, I was leaving empty barrels in their corner. They have fallen silent. Now, so far I would like to point out that the land preparation has started and I would like to say this, and I am proud to say, that a small contracting firm, Guyanese firm, has won the bid to start the site preparation. I want to classify it as site preparation and not land preparation. Why? That description of land preparation has led one of my erstwhile colleagues to be flipping a little piece of paper and showing some heaps of bush which were cleared from the land, in one of the very initial stages of that preparation, and coming to tell the National Assembly that the Government spent $29 million to clear a little of bushes. Now I want to tell the Assembly this… Here, again, I heard the Hon. Member, former Minister of Finance embarrassing himself, again, by not understanding that the money we came here asking for as a supplemental was not for design and study, but it was for what we say here.
So I would like to, through you, Mr. Speaker, to inform the House and the nation that works have started. They have been hampered by the recent rains and, more so, by the recent over tapping which flooded certain sections. But so far we have been able to work with the contracting firm.  The contracting firm, of course, is the Bovell Construction Services. I notice that it is a fairly a small but a growing Guyanese company.  I have never heard of it before and it was interested to me to look at what were its structures. And what have I discovered? I discovered this, Mr. Speaker, that  it is  headed by Mr. Godfrey Bovell, Managing Director; Roxanne Bovell, Direcror, eighteen years experience, Lennox Lee, Manager, Tessa Crandon, Finance Manager, Desmond McLloyd, Manager, Travis Kilkenny, Project Manager, John Cush, Project Manager, Melville Fernandes, Project Manager, William Halls, Surveyor; Mr. Manning, Construction Manager, Mr. Shultz, electrical installation; Brian Adams, road construction. I am told that all of them are Guyanese and that this company is now located in Albouystown. This project is definitely… I see the Hon. Member Mr. Nagamootoo continues to wave his little photograph. It was probably the very first day of clearing the bush. Probably the youngsters, or the young people, from the Ministry of Finance are amused because they have been associated with the projects.
As of the 15th of March, it was reported, that was even before those pictures were taken, that the Hon. Member Mr. Nagamootoo was bantering about some ten per cent of the preparation of the site had been done. This preparation includes the construction of fences, the digging and constructing of drains, internal and external, sturdy bridges, and so on, and so forth. So I would like to inform, through you, again, Mr. Speaker, that it is not becoming to impart misinformation on the nation using this forum without knowing or unwilling to make oneself knowledgeable of the facts that, of course, those pictures are misrepresented of it.
What I would like to point out too, is this… I am spending some time on this because this is a national project and it brings out something bigger. We were able to, for example, in the recent past, with the assistance of Cuba, to build five hospitals. Those hospitals were then manned by Cubans. I have said at this forum - I used to sit over there; many times, I have said it on television, at public meetings - that those facilities were being manned by twenty-five to forty Cubans. I never heard a murmur - not from citizens nor Mayor, not from boy or boss - that the Cubans were going to colonise Guyana. But lo and behold, one of the BRICS countries, which we have been encouraged to forge diplomatic relations with, gave us money to build a state-of-the-art hospital and what happens. A certain Mayor suddenly resurrected and in a very unabashed racist fashion queried why should Indians come and build the hospital. That is in the newspaper. What an unfortunate development is. [Interruption from Members of the Opposition.]
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Minister, you…
Dr. Ramsaran: I did not say which mayor. I said a certain mayor.
Mr. Speaker: There are only seven mayors in Guyana.
Dr. Ramsaran: I did not say in Guyana.
Mr. Speaker: Dr. Ramsaran, I am saying that there are a number of fixed mayors in this country and if you are going make a statement like that you are impugning all. You either withdraw it or you are  impugning  our mayors as being racist or  you must  have something to support your statement with, but if not, I will ask that it be withdrawn and  stricken from the record.
Dr. Ramsaran: Mr. Speaker, if you can allow me. I am saying that the Cubans were not accused of colonising Guyana, and there forty and fifty of then in five hospitals. That is the point I want to make. [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: Dr. Ramsaran, I have heard you and I am saying that the statement impugns the character of all the mayors of Guyana, and unless you can have something there, in written form, to say that any particular mayor made a statement I am asking you to withdraw it and I am striking it from the record.
Dr. Ramsaran: Okay. Thank you Mr. Speaker. For your guidance, you are the Speaker, also lawyer, I bow to your wider knowledge. I withdraw it and I will say it in this way: It can be interpreted to have a strong element of bigotry. That is my choice of words.  I want this to get out to the public, and not only there. There are my erstwhile colleagues who are fighting down that hospital. I am going to choose my words carefully now. This could be misconstrued by our friends as being anti-India. I chose my words carefully, and we are speaking about BRICS. So here it is Cuba. They dance merengue and we love them. They speak Spanish and we love them; but the Indians who are very close to our culture, here one man woke up and started to poke unfortunate comments. This was an unfortunate lapse in judgement; all was it. These are the things we have to confront and the same people who are listening to me, those ones who want to move forward, take note.  So I am happy that Mr. Bovell, having won the contract, is now working with the Ministry to get things going.
Now, what I would like to go on to say is this: These investments in this infrastructure will go hand in hand with the other investments that we have soon to be rolled out, coming out from this budget. Training is essential. Training of technical staff to man those and other health facilities is crucial. In other words, we have to have infrastructure with human resource development - a merger, a good mix. I would like to note that there is some $387 million more in this budget for training, and that is expanding and consolidating, colleagues, on what we have. Sometimes soon, approximately two hundred and fifty Guyanese medical students will be available to the local health sector to man some of those hospitals which were we built but did not have adequate staff; to man some of those hospitals which are now predominantly manned by foreign specialist; to be able to prepare themselves for when the new specialty hospital, within the next three years, comes on stream, and, of course, that will be a training and research hospital. There will be the play dough to create your national cadre so that soon, shortly, within the next few years, the need to send Guyanese patients, much to their discomfort and much to the expense of the taxpayers, overseas might be over. So friends, we are consolidating and at the same time, it might seem contradictory, expanding, because while we are consolidating on the infrastructure we are expanding in the skills mix. This is why I want to reflect on a comment made by one of my colleagues, over on the other side, I do not recall exactly who, but it was one of them who was making more sense than noise. So I reflected on that. That person seemed to say this: that the Region, or a particular region, was getting a small amount of money, I think it was $1.8 million, for health services or rather purchase of drugs. I want to, again, spend some time to explain how the system works, because it is unfortunate… 
I want to point to the Regions that a significant portion, the overwhelming portion, of their medical supplies are bought centrally and sent to them. Why that is done? It is for the economy of scales. If we were to allow each Region to try to purchase on an international market a few hundreds of thousands of dollars of drugs it will be swamped; it will not be able to be done. The Ministry of Health purchases those drugs and, of course, managing inventory is a difficult task. So I heard some legitimate comments coming from the benches of the Opposition. Drugs do expire. I would like to call our attention to analyse certain recent news items which were prompted by the report from the Auditor General.
It is reported, and correctly so, that several million dollars worth of drugs might have expired. I want to point out, Mr. Speaker, and you, of course, as a lawyer, will follow me in the nitty-gritty of what I am saying. The Auditor General pointed out the fact; he did not go into the details. [Mrs. Backer: Fired him.]       No. The man does a good job. What his report does not tell is over what period. Some of these drugs have been expired and stored for many years. So, if, as he said, and correctly so, some $40 million of drugs was expired, compare it with the inventory that we hold and this comes out to be a small percentage. Further to that,  colleagues, members of the media, through you, Mr. Speaker, let us realise that this has been an accumulation of five, six or seven years and then divide that sum by that number and you will see what I am speaking about.  This is not a satisfactory situation. We need to be able to dispose of those quicker. We need to empower; we need to staff better the department, that is, the Food and Drug Department, which takes care of that. But I hope, Mr. Speaker, with your permission, I will repeat, that the full explanation is understood.
Further to that… and that is why I am happy that the Minister of Finance has put such confidence in the health sector, given us such resources, in spite of the fact that the naysayers continue to bring to us half -baked misleading information. For example, let us speak about the health waste management hydro-claves supply system in Georgetown Hospital.
Recently we had a situation in one of the newspapers where oranges were being compared to apples and we were being asked to make a conclusion out of that.
Through you, Mr. Speaker, I am enjoying the rabble-rousing of the Hon. Member. Leave her alone.
There is a table in this newspaper which alleges to list the component parts of this piece of machinery. I would like to point out to you that several significant parts are not there. The compactor, the machine, and the special biohazard removal, disposal or waste truck are not listed here. I will rest that. Further, the said newspaper purports to show a shed and it said that this shed is overpriced. This shed had to be built. I would like to call on Members of the honourable profession- lawyers- to look into the details and not the fluff. That is my point and what I would like to say is that the right analysis of this shows not a shed, but a construction that had to be placed on certain foundations. There will be machinery here which will vibrate. So there are provisions in the cost of this project which go beyond this mere shed.
I am happy that you have been able to indulge me in spite of the fact that I might have transgressed in my passion to bring over certain points. I am happy that you have been able to allow me to bring to your attention the half-baked approach to informing the Guyanese people.
I would like to tell you this Mr. Speaker: this piece of machinery is powered, in part, by steam. That steam is generated in the Laundry of the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation. The steam has to be conducted to this shed. That is a significant part of infrastructure which will not be replicated in what is a picture of a shed. Let us move on.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to bring to your attention that there have been significant moves to address a certain concern which was reflected in the speech of the Minister of Finance. He hinted, and I did not fully agree with him - it is the only part of his speech that I have a little doubt about - that Guyana might not be able to achieve the Millennium Development Goal regarding maternal mortality. I too am anxious because this is a serious matter to such an extent that the Cabinet analyses every single maternal death. However, there have been certain new developments, Mr. Minister of Finance. Recently, noting that there was a threat to the achievement of this Millennium Development Goal, we have partnered with certain reputable universities, professors and Good Samaritan groups.
I want to call to your attention another significant achievement of the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation in ensuring safe motherhood and safe infancy. A few weeks ago, a very well trained, well qualified Guyanese doctor assisted us – and I hope I am right if I call his name: Dr. Narindra Singh – in equipping a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) with all of ten incubators and equipment. That, through you Mr. Speaker, to the Minister of Finance, will or should put your heart at ease that Guyana is well on the way to achievement that Millennium Development Goal by 2015, not only safe motherhood but reduction in under-five mortality. We emphasise this because an analysis of our deaths- our losses under five- shows that a significant portion is due to deaths among premature babies or babies who need special care which hitherto was limited in Guyana. I would like to thank the goodly gentleman for this contribution and, at the same time, I would like to note that the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the same agency that is helping us pilot the introduction of the Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, has also been able to help us craft a special curriculum for training the specialists, Guyanese young specialists, in the special techniques and knowledge competencies needed to function and operate in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
The Ministry of Health does not work in isolation. It works hand in hand with several other Ministries. And in this regard, I will like to say that our very good work in the area of cataract reduction trumps. As a matter of fact, I was almost tempted to declare cataract a disease that is about to go extinct in Guyana, hard to find it. As a matter of fact, before this programme started, certain private practitioners would have charged someone $250,000 for one side. Now they cannot get business and they are vexed. They cannot get business because Port Mourant Hospital is working. Not only that, we are reaching out. Let me give you an example. We went to Leguan seven or eight days ago. Today, the cataract patients from Leguan have just finished their cataract surgeries, nine or ten of them at the Port Mourant Hospital totally free. The minibus picked them up at Parika and took them to Berbice. These are the things that our media... They crossed our famous Berbice Bridge, another infrastructural improvement by the PPP/C Government. [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker, let me tell you about Centre Square as an example of the caring Government and how we are using it to bring more services to the communities. Centre Square is located in the heart of your commercial area and we, from time to time, park a massive, sometimes more than one, dental bus and we do work there. We sometimes partner with Laparkan. I want to particularly thank the Head of Laparkan, Mr. Bhagwandin, for initiating this cooperation. And do you know what we did only within January to February? We screened 240 people. Three minibuses already in Port Mourant - seeing better! That is progress! That is bringing services to the community. If you want to go and buy furniture at Fogarty’s, drop by and get your eyes tested and find out if you have to go to Port Mourant. Within a week you will be on a bus. That is how we are using your moneys. Not only that! No wonder that we have certain people disconcerted. The market is contracting!
I started to speak about our inter-agency, inter-ministry cooperation and then I deviated slightly to speak on cataract. However, they are one in the same thing because many of these older folks are also pensioners. So although the pension is a little “toops”, they also have other support from $250,000 for a cataract operation to getting all two sides for free! That is the PPP/Civic. So Mr. Minister of Finance, through you Mr. Speaker, I do hope that when we come again for more and more moneys...[Interruption]
Mr. Speaker, let me repeat the salient point that got the Members of the Opposition upset. The salient point is that the PPP/C is achieving free cataract operations for the population and that is causing disconcertment in the private sector, some of them. That is the point I was making and they started to make hallabaloo.
The inter-agency cooperation that the Ministry of Health achieves, many older folks - and those are the people who tend to have cataract - also have other needs and the Ministry of Health works very closely with the Ministry of Human services. Some persons might not need to have cataract surgery. They might need, for example, to have spectacles. The Ministry of Health facilitates that. A small subsidised fee might be asked so that we can maintain our partnership with another very effective and efficient Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO). The NGO is called Eye Care Guyana. It is doing a wonderful job in this country. And here I hope I will be allowed to mention another name – Mr. Charles Vandyke – quiet man, efficient, gets his job done. So we are partnering with that agency and we have been able to, by testing the eyes of the older folk, especially, or anybody, we are able to refer them to spectacles. Unfortunately, our partnership encourages the recipients to pay a small fee...     [Member: $9,000.]      No. It is $10,000 - which they have been freely doing. Apparently some of the Members of the Opposition have benefitted from this service. I seem they know the price of the spectacle. What I want to point out too...      [Mrs. Backer: What is wrong with that?]        It is very good. I am happy for that.
The government also encourages young doctors to upgrade themselves with the systems of this NGO. We have been able to secure scholarships to train graduate doctors, that is, young Guyanese who were trained in Cuba to further their studies to become, not a graduate doctor alone, but an eye specialist! We have dispatched overseas, so far, five of them, and these opportunities are not limited to members of the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation’s staff. That is why, unfortunately, the Hon. Dr. Norton might not have known about that. So far, all of the beneficiaries have been bright young women. They are starting to come back. I know I should be wrapping up. The Government is not only using the resources given to create infrastructure but, at the same time, to create training opportunities and put them there to work alongside the foreign specialists, gain from them and then, hopefully, replace them. So that is the bigger game plan.
I notice some good suggestions coming from the Opposition. Some of their comments were unfortunate, for example what I regard as the unfortunate pronouncements on the new surgical hospital but we will let that pass. There are others which we will take note of. I have not brought the newspaper with me, but I did see a headline which says – and I can be corrected – APNU supports abortions. That is a positive thing we need to look at. These are the things we need to engage in because these are bipartisan issues that need to be treated specially, sensitively and so on. So we will be looking at those issues since we seem to have, right across the aisle and right across whatever divide exists- some commonality. Of course, the religious communities have a strong impact on our thinking as a nation. We will have to look at those. I would like to remind you that there is a special board dealing with medical termination of pregnancies. It is a sensitive issue. I can tell you this because I know for a fact that many of the operators at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation, although they do not deliver these services there, do it at other hospitals. I say no more on that.
Modernisation, consolidation and decentralisation have been some of the key words that the Minister of Finance used in his section on health. And, of course, you will see them in other sections and other social sectors. We have modernised. We have started and we have continued the modernisation of the health sector. We have created a network of primary health care facilities. We have also brought more services to these facilities. I refer to the HPV vaccine. But as any specialist will tell you...
I am saying that we have been able to use this large influx of young nurses. Let me remind you that we are also continuing to graduate significant numbers of medics. We have been able to give them more skills. We have been paying particular attention to an evidence-based approach to delivery of services. We have discovered, as I said, that cervical cancer is the number one cause of cancer deaths among our women and we have acted, quietly, on that. Certainly, services, for example the visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA) services, and all the women in this room should have a special interest in this and, more particularly, women of an indigenous origin because a certain study done by one Ms.Yvette Ervin, when she did her degree, showed that Amerindian women are more susceptible to having cervical cancer. So we, as part of our effort to push indigenous health, in our efforts to establish safe womanhood and motherhood, established the VIA programme and so far we have been able to help a significant number of women by a very cheap method of intervention in the fight against cervical cancer.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank you for your indulgence, especially on those occasions when in my enthusiasm to make a point, I transgressed. I would like to thank you for those indulgences and those corrections. At the same time, I cannot leave without referring to the lost decade of the 1980s when my Hon. Friend, Mr. Greenidge, Hon. Member of this National Assembly, was the then Minister of Finance. Many of these indicators that I showed you would have seemed like a fantasy in those days. Such has been the change. We will continue as an Administration to consolidate on the gains over this decade of achievement while, of course, trying to repair some of the lingering influences of that lost decade.
I would like to join with my colleagues in saying that we will resolutely remain on course because, as I have shown you, that course has brought benefit to the Guyanese people right across the border. Incidentally, the largest ever number of Amerindian doctors will be coming back soon from Cuba. That is empowerment. On that very positive note, I would like to reaffirm that we will resolutely stay on course; we will continue in a unified purpose and, of course, we will continue spreading the prosperity to all, wherever they are in Guyana. Thank you. [Applause]

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