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Dr. Vishwa Mahadeo

Tribute to one of our unsung heroes

In his early years there is one night that truly stands out as dedication to duty. In those days, only one doctor was assigned to that village, a location that had very little to offer in its remote and unsophisticated health care facility. He was the only one on duty that night when a woman showed up hemorrhaging from a failed pregnancy. After careful analysis, tests, and performing all the obvious and necessary steps, the only option left was a blood transfusion from himself to his patient - a procedure that saved a life.

When I met Dr. Vishwa Mahadeo at the New Amsterdam Hospital in Guyana, S.A., the day was already well worn. After multiple meetings, emergency room visits, and dealing with one fire drill after another, you looked at him and wondered if his day had only just started. With a presence that seemed to dwarf his surroundings, his energy and self-confidence quickly grabbed your attention. It wasn’t only his professionalism, but a calm presence that assured you that you were in capable hands. His office was furnished very simply with no overtures of grandeur. It was the office of a man who was clearly not into making statements of self-importance or caring about first impressions. Clutter free and welcoming it was a space where hard work combined with vision became trail-blazers that set the lead and galvanized others into action.

Dr. Mahadeo whose primary language is English studied medicine in Russia. Part of his study and rigorous training required that he learn the language quickly as his classes were fully taught in Russian by the second/third year. A transition that must have been difficult to accomplish, showed a character that believed in persevering and in my opinion as difficult as medical school was, learning Russian must have been harder. His journey started with small steps, from the doctor of a regional center, to the Chief Executive Officer of the New Amsterdam Hospital and eventually the CEO of the BRHA (Berbice Regional Health Authority).

The BRHA, managed by a Board of Directors and a management team, consists of 2 national, 1 regional and 3 district hospitals, 18 health centers and 7 health posts. The BRHA provides services at all 5 levels of Health Care; having 7 at level 1 (Health Posts), 18 at level 2 (Health Centers) , 3 at level 3 (Mibicuri, Port Mourant and Skeldon Hospitals), 1 at level 4 (New Amsterdam Regional Hospital) , and 2 at level 5 (National Psychiatric Hospital, and the National Ophthalmology Hospital). Conceptualized to bring the health industry to a new level, it’s an approach to quality health care that will allow similar Authorities to be set up across the country. Actively monitored by the media, which in turn is effectively used to reach out to the public, is an instance where working together benefits all, not just an individual agenda. Dr. Mahadeo’s brainchild is the extended home-based patient care program where a complete medical team visits different communities each day to attend to ill patients, geriatric citizens and their families.

To understand the challenges in providing adequate healthcare you are able to grasp the dedication of its providers. Guyana is located in South America and on its Northwestern border is virgin rainforest that leads to the Amazon Basin. The healthcare choices are public that is free and funded by the government or private that is expensive with hospitals located in the capital city. Access to any healthcare requires hours or days of travel for many of its native Amerindian villages or mining towns close to or in the rainforests. Dr. Mahadeo is involved and fully vested in his community and has managed to reach out to remote and poverty stricken communities by taking the health care to them.

This activity involves days of being in remote regions connected only by waterways. Assignments like these are always tough, but it’s an event he always volunteers to lead. Leaving the office of the CEO in capable hands Dr. Mahadeo, a team of doctors and a cross-section of health providers goes MIA for days at a time. A trip can be tough if it’s not properly organized. “There was this one time the only thing left to eat was bread, but even that was too stale so the only thing I had that whole day was a cup of tea”, says Mahadeo, describing a particular trip the team made. It was a journey that required a whole day of travel on waterways to return home. Left unsaid were the obvious heat, humidity, and mosquitoes, any of which can make for an unpleasant working experience altogether.

Dr. Mahadeo asserts that “Healthcare is a fundamental social right”. According to one grateful patient, “I owe my life, certainly my sanity, to this renewed dynamism in the sector, because of its readily-available facilities and medication, as well as the knowledgeable medical personnel that saved my life when I received severe head injuries from an accident in a remote location” (Guyana Chronicle).

This CEO’s office is like nothing seen on any TV show. It’s more like New York’s Grand Central Station with a constant stream of people, all needing his time. I saw him chastise without mincing words to get his point across, ending with a “Just make sure this never happens again” to the driver of one of the hospitals ambulance for failing to upkeep maintenances that could ultimately endanger lives on the road; or the upheavals to his day with TV and news reporters seeking answers because the refrigeration system broke down in the hospitals morgue.

There are daily challenges to his office. That enough is not done to provide adequate accommodations for the overflow of patients; or the wait times to be seen can be hours too long; even the attitudes of those under his jurisdiction perceived as negative reflects on his office. Ultimately criticisms directed at his office reflect on him. For a man who was thrown into jail for his political convictions, there is little that can be said to faze or steer him off course. Comments are acknowledged and slowly implemented, or defended but duly noted, because funding and time, key components for change are difficult to come by especially for large state run institutions.

As kids we grew up in a time of civic unrest and turmoil, a time during which his father, a political activist and leader, an almost larger than life figure, set the standard after which he modeled his life. Accustomed to the presence of awe inspiring personalities, like the president of our country staying at their home, were events that ingrained leadership skills and focus which allows little opportunity to be sidetracked, even by his critics. His days most likely begin with a purpose and end with satisfaction, as he dedicates himself fully to his job. Dr. Mahadeo comes from a close knit family of achievers, grounded in the same beliefs that are ultimately his strength. The driving force behind such an individual is his dedication, courage and discipline and Dr. Mahadeo is one of our unsung heroes.

Shanti Inderjit

Please see the links below for some interesting read on the ecology and bio-diversity of Guyana and the effort underway to keep intact, its Amazonian rainforests. Recommending further read on the Guyana Shield (Guiana) and its Precambrian history.
The Guiana Shield, also called the Guiana Highlands at higher elevations, is among the earth's oldest surface. It is a Precambrian geological formation approximately 2 billion years old. Located in north-eastern South America, it includes a large mountain plateau and rainforest system that is part of a vast watershed between the Amazon and the Orinoco rivers.

Ecology of Guyana – Guyana Shield -
The Guiana Shield is one of the regions of highest biodiversity in the world. The Shield has over 2200 vertebrate species and 1680 bird species. The Shield is overlain by the largest expanse of undisturbed tropical rain forest in the world.

Article from the Smithsonian -

The Guiana Shield Initiative funded by the European Union

Comment Form is loading comments...

(2 days ago)
Shanti said:
You are right and thanks for your kind words about the article also -- good behavior and personal sacrifices are always taken for granted yet negative things somehow makes it as headline news. Well that should change I believe.

(4 days ago) Mark said:
Personalities like Dr Mahadeo are very rare. Thanks for a wonderful article on a very special person.


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