22 April 2022
Would you like to share a bit more about your background with us?
Before assuming office as the Director of Health in January of 2021, I practiced medicine in both the corporate sector as well as the public sector. I obtained my Medical degree here in Suriname, at the Anton De Kom University. I have worked as a medical professional with the Medical Mission, the Regional Health Services (RGD) amongst other Governmental and Non-Governmental Institutions. In my current role, practicing medicine is not allowed, because the Director of Health is also the Inspector General in healthcare in the country. While I love practicing medicine and do miss it, I believe that from my current position, I can make a more significant contribution towards improving the community’s health and the healthcare services. In addition to my medical background, I also completed a Master’s degree in Public Health in 2012, allowing me to broaden my knowledge beyond diagnostics and patient care. When the vacancy was posted for the position of Director of Public Health I immediately applied and am grateful to have been given the opportunity.
Taking on COVID-19 during your first year in office, what was it like?
I started the new position during the second COVID-19 wave in Suriname and apart from the pandemic, there were more national crises we had to deal with, such as the financial crisis within healthcare institutions and the shortage of human resources. We have tried to manage COVID-19 patient care by implementing specific policies to flatten the curves during the waves and mitigating the impact on the community and healthcare sector.
Suriname’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic immediately exposed the weak points in the healthcare system, such as the lack of collaboration between hospitals in terms of staff and logistics. The continuance of regular acute hospital care during the pandemic was also challenging for the healthcare system to manage. While hospitals were already understaffed, we see that the brain drain is increasing, and medical professionals are leaving Suriname. We have expanded our capacity to plan how to structurally prevent this brain drain from getting worse so that we can guarantee continuity in healthcare in Suriname.
In short, it was exceptionally difficult to manage wave after wave, and we are still dealing with shortages in medical staff and supplies, but thanks to help from international organizations such as PAHO, as well as countries that have extended a helping hand such as the Netherlands, the United States, Canada, amongst others, Suriname has been able to deal with the pandemic as best as we can. The lessons learned from the national response to COVID-19 and the gaps we have identified will also allow us as a nation to better prepare for future crises.
How has the collaboration between the Ministry of Health and PAHO been?
PAHO has access to multiple sources of expertise and it is amazing to be able to tap into these resources, which has tremendously helped Suriname to cope not only with COVID-19, but also the effects of the pandemic on public health in general. We have received technical cooperation, funding, and support to implement our public health programme, which the Government is grateful for, as we have continuously been able to improve healthcare services in Suriname thanks to PAHO. It is our aim to carry on working alongside PAHO to achieve even better results in the future and keep positively impacting the community in terms of public health.
In the fight against COVID-19 we have been not only received technical advice and support, but also donations consisting of medical equipment such as ventilators, oxygen concentrators and tanks, patient monitors, consumables, and PPE. PAHO also supported the National COVID-19 Vaccination Programme, helping to procure vaccines through the PAHO Revolving Fund and provide technical guidance about the use of these vaccines. In addition, PAHO also advised on the COVID-19 campaign and the implementation of the Vaccination Programme. We would not have been able to get where we are now in terms of vaccination coverage in Suriname without PAHO’s help.
PAHO has not only supported and contributed when it comes to COVID-19, but also in other areas such as the prevention and awareness of chronic illnesses, the development of plans and guidelines for mental health, non-communicable diseases, zoonoses, countering maternal and infant deaths, the National Malaria Programme, training staff in technical areas as well as providing technical cooperation to the Ministry of Health.
Through PAHO’s Strategic Fund, we have also been able to procure medicines that were out-of-stock. This fund has been an amazing help to us in the procurement of much needed medicine and supplies and we will keep making use of this mechanism.
Another exciting project that we have collaborated with PAHO on is an Open-Air Gym, which opened on World Health Day on 7 April 2022 in District Commewijne, with the aim of preventing chronic illnesses through regular exercise. In conclusion, the Ministry of Health aims to optimize primary health care services in all areas of Suriname, from the coastal areas to the interior, as well as strengthen and simplify the connection to secondary health care services and improve all areas of healthcare in Suriname for both patients as well as health care providers. We believe that together with PAHO, we can reach these goals and have a sustainable effect on healthcare in Suriname as well as in the region.