Health and Welfare Services

Health and Welfare Services

Until World War II, medical facilities in rural areas were inadequate. The extension of workers' compensation to agricultural workers in 1947 and the subsequent establishment of the medical services on the sugar estates did much to improve rural health care. The World Bank estimated that 89 percent of the population had access to health care in the late 1980s. Some children under twelve had been immunized against measles (52 percent), and diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus (DPT) (67 percent), figures that are about average for the region. Health expenditures by the government were 3.7 percent of all expenditures in 1984.

In 1988 there were 21 hospitals, 47 health clinics, and 115 rural health centers in Guyana. The country counted 2,933 hospital beds for a bed to population ratio of approximately one to 280. Guyana's seven private hospitals and the largest public hospitals are in Georgetown.

Statistics for 1988 showed 164 physicians in Guyana, which made for a physician-to-patient ratio of one to 5,000. About 90 percent of the physicians were in public service. Most physicians in the private sector were also holding government jobs. Approximately half of the country's physicians were expatriates from communist countries, such as Cuba and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), who were assigned to work in Guyana as part of bilateral agreements. These foreign professionals experienced significant language and cultural difficulties in dealing with patients.

Guyana's 789 nurses made for a nurse-to-patient ratio of one to 1,014 in 1988. There were an additional 875 nursing assistants and 409 trained midwives. Because of the shortage of nurses, many health care functions that in developed countries would be performed by nursing personnel were assigned to nursing students. Thirty-eight pharmacists were licensed to operate.

A national insurance program was established in 1969. It covers most workers and self-employed people for disability, sickness, and maternity. The program is administered by the National Insurance Board. Workers with permanent total disabilities are paid their full salary; those with temporary disabilities get at least 60 percent of their salary. Employees with illnesses can receive 60 percent of their salary for up to six months. Women can take maternity leave for up to thirteen weeks with 60 percent of their salary. Guyana also has a pensions system that provides a basis of 30 percent of earnings starting at age sixty-five. Employers and employees alike pay into all of these insurance funds, which are administered by the National Insurance Board. Social security and welfare accounted for 2.7 percent of government expenditures in 1984.

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