Remarks by Deputy Chief of Mission Terry Steers-Gonzalez at the opening of USAID Zika Maternal and Child Survival Project Training of Trainers Workshop
It is my pleasure to represent the United States Government at this morning’s opening of the Zika Maternal and Child Survival Project, Training of Trainers Workshop. This U.S. Embassy initiative represents the enduring partnership between our two governments to improve the health and well-being of Guyanese citizens relative to the Zika epidemic. The two-day workshop will equip senior Ministry of Public Health staff to provide psycho-social support to parents and caregivers of Zika-affected children, using proven coping skills and strategies to effectively manage daily challenges and improve health outcomes.
As we know, caring for children with disabilities presents unique challenges. Highlighting the impact that parental stress and depression can have on children’s development, the workshop will prepare mental health, physiotherapy, and rehabilitation professionals to roll-out national trainings on clinical and non-clinical aspects of care of affected infants and children. Staff will also be trained on how to teach caregivers to conduct recovery therapies at home and early infant and child stimulation, which help in achieving developmental milestones.
As you know, Guyana recorded its first Zika case in January 2016, around the same time many other Caribbean countries were reporting their first cases. On February 1, 2016, the World Health Organization declared Zika a public health emergency of international concern, and, soon after, the U.S. Government launched its Zika Project, which seeks to reduce the number of pregnancies negatively affected by Zika virus infection.
Zika continues to pose a serious threat to public health across the Caribbean and in Guyana. We all saw the recent story about the World Health Organization having “downgraded” the Zika threat for the entire Caribbean, but hopefully all in this room understand how wrong that story was. The truth is that Zika continues to be transmitted in the Caribbean, but at lower levels than during the outbreak two years ago. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control is still registering cases of Zika infection among American tourists returning from the Caribbean and maintains its warning that pregnant women should NOT travel to areas with risk of Zika, and lists the Caribbean as an area of risk, including Guyana.
This simply underscores the need to continue the incredibly important work that we are engaged in together.
The multi-faceted project Zika Project, implemented throughout the region, supports vector control, maternal and child health, and behavior change communications. The Zika Project is also partnering with dedicated public health specialists to improve the capacity of providers to counsel pregnant women and their partners on the risks of Zika infection to newborns. Mass media campaigns and community-level messaging about Zika have fostered wide-spread knowledge on how to prevent infection and protect families from this devastating disease.
Just last week, intensive community sensitization activities were conducted in 165 schools, 150 health centers, and across 60 local communities in collaboration with the Guyana Red Cross Society. This initiative, which covered select communities in seven regions, included community clean-ups to destroy mosquito breeding grounds. In addition, the project supported the establishment of quality improvement teams at 10 health facilities, and the training of 20 healthcare workers and 25 occupational therapists in the care of small babies and Zika-affected infants.
While most activities here in Guyana focus on prevention and treatment, we are cognizant that the impact of the Zika virus goes far beyond physical health and has significant psychological and social implications. Often unnoticed, these non-clinical implications can place enormous strain on families. It is for this reason that psychosocial support to caregivers and families remains one of the main pillars of USAID’s Zika Maternal and Child Survival Project, helping individuals, families, and communities to strengthen their resilience and manage the effects of Zika.
This is what today’s workshop is about – providing critical support to persons affected. It’s about “caring for the carers” and building their skills to apply the important work that all of you do in the health facilities in their homes. At the end of the day, affected children, families, and communities will benefit, and, by extension, all of us in Guyana.
Once again let me take this opportunity on behalf of the U.S. Embassy and, indeed, the U.S. Government, to thank you for your dedication and service. I wish you a very successful workshop and continued success in the future.