HIV stigma keeps Lindeners away from Upper Demerara Hospital

Fear of being labelled HIV patients is keeping Lindeners away from the Upper Demerara Hospital (UDH), which is putting undue pressure on the Linden Hospital Complex.

“We have heard that quite a number of people believe that only the infectious diseases are treated here [and] that is not so,” said Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of hospitals in Region 10 Gordon Gumbs, who is appealing to residents to wisely utilise both facilities. “What we’re attempting to do today is trying to encourage people to utilise the services that are being offered… We have the same of services here that are being offered at Mackenzie, the same doctors who work at Mackenzie work here and the same nurses rotate here also,” he added.

During a recent visit to the UDH, this newspaper observed wards that were almost empty.

At the time of visit, the clinics for family health care and HIV had the largest number of patients. The next largest patient hub was the non-infectious clinics attended mainly by elderly persons.

The UDH is located at the upper end of Blue Berry Hill at Wismar, Linden and according to Gumbs it offers a wide range of services. He said that since the Linden Hospital Complex, located in Mackenzie, commenced free medical care to the public in 1976, there has been a major decline in patients seeking medical care at Wismar.

However, in recent years the Regional Democratic Council (RDC) has been spending large sums to improve and maintain the institution. Currently, an x-ray unit is being installed at the UDH at a cost of approximately $5 million. It is expected to be completed within three months. According to Regional Executive Officer Henry Rodney, the machine was purchased in 2010 at a cost of $3.1 million.

“We are currently installing it but have quite a number of modifications to do the room because x-rays have a lot to do with radiation and so we have to ensure that the safety measures are put in place,” said Rodney.  Additionally, the entire hospital has to be re-wired.

The UDH offers a chest clinic, a family health care, a medical clinic, an STI clinic and filarial, lymphatic, ante-natal, pre-natal, post-natal and skin clinics, among others.

It, however, does not have a paediatric clinic or a functioning operating theatre.

Gumbs noted that a number of patients who reside on the Wismar shore and even those living on Blue Berry Hill travel to Mackenzie to access medical care, when they could be accessing the services offered at Wismar.

When Stabroek News spoke with several persons around the Blue Berry Hill community and a few persons at the Linden Hospital Complex, they gave a common reason for the underutilisation of the UDH–fear of stigma associated with HIV. Several persons were of the opinion that UDH was heavily stigmatised because of the dominance of the HIV clinic. “When you go there, everybody does watch you like you got AIDS,” said one person. Another exclaimed, “When you got TB or AIDS and dem thing dah is when deh does throw you there so who in deh right senses would want to go there for any treatment? The next thing you gon here is that you got AIDS! Not me.”

Others added that on a number of occasions they attempted to access services at the UDH but had to wait hours for the arrival of doctors.

They said that while nurses are readily available and are usually very hospitable, they would sometimes have to wait until after lunch for the arrival of doctors.

They claimed that the doctors are usually sent to the institution after they would have completed running the wards and in some cases conducting clinics at the Mackenzie Hospital before attending to Wismar.

“When they done with Mackenzie sometimes deh got to go to lunch and all ah dah before they come here, but that is with the exception of one or two of them doctors,” explained an elderly woman.

Gumbs, however, said the issues raised by residents were of the past. According to him, the chest laboratory is located at the UDH and this is reason for the stationing of the family health unit, which treats HIV patients.

He also said that recently the outpatient units always have doctors present. He added that in most instances the Cuban doctors attend to the units.

“We have a Cuban couple who live just behind the hospital and so they are more often than not available at the hospital for the beginning to the ending of the day,” he said.

He added that if for some reason the doctors have to be called away, others or medics are sent to take up the slack.

Gumbs emphasised that a wide range of services are available at the UDH but they have not been maximised.

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