The Ministry of Health, with assistance from the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), on Monday began training dozens of environmental health officials from across Guyana on stepping up surveillance of food-borne illnesses that are caused by bacteria, parasites, viruses and eventually contaminants.
Addressing the opening of the seminar at the Marriott Hotel, Health Minister Dr Frank Anthony said CARPHA facilitators would be focusing on the need to do surveillance to gather statistics in a timely manner for proper planning to address hot-spots of food borne illnesses. He singled out the need for an interactive system that could be used to identify outbreaks early enough and respond to trends. “The only way we’ll know that is if we have a very active surveillance system,” he said.
Dr Anthony said Guyana currently has a “passive” surveillance system in which the experts await data, fill up forms and then transmit them to others for the preparation of reports. “In cases where it’s an infectious disease and we need to react fast, we need to have a more proactive system and that’s what we are hoping to build,” he said. According to the Health Minister existing system are not working to maximum efficiency and so everyone from the various agencies is being trained to respond “optimally” to threats across the country.
The Health Minister noted from food-borne diseases that are caused by bacteria, parasites and viruses, other diseases could be caused by excessive use of pesticides as well as other matter. “That’s another aspect that we sometimes overlook and maybe that’s something we’ll have to think about as we try to enhance the quality of training,” he said.
Dr Anthony hoped that the workshop would offer an opportunity for the environmental health experts from across Guyana to build a collaborative approach ahead of the establishment of a health informatics system over the next two to three years. Such a system, he said, would include an electronic medical records system that would be designed by the Ministry of Health and the New York-based Mount Sinai Healthcare system to collect real-time data from patients in the public and private sector.
He said food safety is increasingly becoming necessary with the construction of at least six international hotels in and around Georgetown within the next four years. “People, who are coming here and utilising the services would want to ensure that what they are eating at these restaurants are safe,” he said.
He questioned how other restaurants were cooking and presenting food safely and whether there was a “rigorous enough” system to ensure the safety of those foods. Dr Anthony urged participants to trace the foods from farms where they are being produced, how they are intervening throughout that chain and then when it is served.
A number of fixed food caravans, stalls and mobile (bus) food outlets sell food outside municipal markets, on the streets and outside the Georgetown Public Hospital where nurses and other health sector workers purchase meals everyday.