Many of Guyana's health problems are the result of its human geography. Most of the population is crowded in the low-lying coastal plain, where cycles of flooding and drought have historically made sanitation difficult. The coastal plain is a hospitable environment for the malaria-carrying mosquito, and crowded housing on the plantations facilitates the spread of disease. It was not until after World War II that nationwide efforts to improve health conditions were made.
Among the endemic illnesses in Guyana are malaria, typhoid, filariasis, and tuberculosis. Measles remains a common infectious disease. The leading causes of death are circulatory, respiratory, infectious, and parasitic diseases. In the late 1940s, the government began a malaria-control campaign that largely eradicated the disease on the coastal plain. Nevertheless, in 1990 malaria remained a problem in the interior and had returned to some areas of the coast as well. Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) also was a growing problem. A total of 145 cases of AIDS had been reported by the end of 1990.
The infant mortality rate for Guyana in 1988 was 43.9 per 1,000 live births. This figure was considerably below the average rate for Latin America and the Caribbean (52 per 1,000), and was a great improvement over the rate of 141 per 1,000 in the 1930s. However, for low-income families, the rate was 72.6 per 1,000. Life expectancy at birth was estimated at sixty-six years in 1988, about the same as the average for Latin America.
Sewage treatment remains inadequate in many rural households, especially in the villages. More than 90 percent of the urban population, but only 65 percent of the rural population, had access to safe water in 1988. According to World Bank estimates, access to safe water in rural areas had declined 10 percent in the two previous decades because of poor maintenance of purification facilities. In 1960 the government initiated a successful environmental sanitation program in the Essequibo area, where parasitic-infection rates had run between 80 percent and 90 percent. In sugar-estate communities, potable water was supplied by the sugar industry.
|Country Studies main page | Guyana Country Studies main page|