By Ashley Skinner
A group of Texas State University respiratory therapy students traveled to Guyana over the winter break to assist nurses and provide training to the developing nation.
Sheik Amir, director of medical and professional services at Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation, said there is a need for the specialty in Guyana.
“Respiratory care is a program we are trying to train our nurses to do more and more,” Amir said. “It has its advantages as a specialty, as it relieves nurses from doing all of the duties. A dedicated person doing something is always better than someone doing something they have to do only when they have a bit of time.”
Located in the northeastern tip of South America, Guyana is home to 10 hospitals in the private and public sectors. Respiratory diseases in the country are not regularly documented, due to the insufficient equipment to diagnose the problems, said Sharon Armstead, a respiratory therapist and Texas State University clinical assistant professor who led the study abroad program to Guyana.
“If you look at the diagnostic numbers, they’ll be low,” Armstead said.
“This is because you can’t report a disease if you don’t have the tools to diagnose it.”
While the diseases are not frequently detected, they do not go unnoticed.
“I hope the hospital staff will learn more developed procedures from the [respiratory care] team,” said Elizabeth Gonsalves, deputy CEO of Georgetown Public Hospital. “We are happy to have Texas State here to help us deal with the respiratory problems of Guyana.”
The Ministry of Public Health oversees the delivery of health care services throughout Guyana, as well as distributes funds to hospitals from the financial resources allocated to the Ministry.
“I take great pride in my country,” said the Honorable Volda Lawrence, the minister of public health. “The ministry is doing everything it can to make Guyana a First World country health system.”
Amir said a lack of funding plays a big part in the country not having respiratory therapy as a specialty in the country.
“There won’t be any funding until we have a person here telling us what we need for the specialty,” Amir said. “If you don’t think of something, you won’t be budgeting for it. Now that it’s being put out there and talked about, people will start looking at how to grow the profession.”
With funding allocated to the hospital for equipment, more places than just the emergency room will be able to tend to respiratory problems.
“Getting respiratory therapy brought to Guyana is definitely something we want and need to look into,” Gonsalves said. “Respiratory care as a specialty will help our hospital be able to have more diagnosis stations than just the ER, as that is where most of the diagnoses’ happen.”
Additionally, Gonsalves said there are plans to discuss growing this profession at the board level in due time, as respiratory diseases are becoming a bigger problem.
Originally from Guyana, Armstead remembers her asthma acting up as a child in the country due to the mining for bauxite in the town of Linden.
“Coming back here my asthma still gets bad when I go to Linden,” Armstead said. “When we come to this city, my chest gets a little tighter and it’s harder to breathe.”
Armstead travels to Guyana at least once a year on mission trips through Bridges Global Medical Missions. This organization is also the one that led the study abroad trip, headed by the Atlanta-based nonprofit’s vice president and medical director, Claudette Heyliger-Thomas.
“We wanted to bring Texas State and respiratory therapy to this country in hopes to push patient care to where it needs to be,” Heyliger-Thomas said.
“I’m glad they have gotten to experience what the medial world is like in a developing country.”
The CHEST foundation, an organization dedicated to championing lung health by supporting clinical research, patient education and community service, awarded Armstead a $11,530 grant to fund the donation of respiratory medical equipment to the Georgetown and Linden hospitals.
“We plan to donate as much equipment as we can because we want Guyana to see the importance of respiratory care,” Armstead said. “When I look around, I see nurses, not respiratory therapists. You can’t have a hospital without this profession and I believe we can bring it to Guyana.”