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Julio Frenk- Dean of the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health: Sever any and all affiliation with Mr. Leslie Ramsammy, former MOH Guyana

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Julio Frenk- Dean of the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health: Sever any and all affiliation with Mr. Leslie Ramsammy, former MOH Guyana
  
  

 


Why this is important

While Mr. Leslie Ramsammy- current Richard L. and Ronay A. Menschel Senior Leadership Fellow at the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health- is being celebrated as a global leader internationally, he failed dismally, while Minister of Health , to show leadership in multiple areas, including reproductive rights, LGBTI rights, interpersonal violence, and mental health. We wish to urge the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health to hear our voices as Guyanese citizens and to sever all ties they have with Mr. Leslie Ramsammy immediately. 

Mr. Ramsammy failed to ensure that the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, which passed in 1995, legalizing abortion in Guyana, was properly implemented. As a result, abortion services were not offered in the public health facilities. Numerous poor women who needed this service were maimed by unlicensed ‘bottomhouse’ abortionists, and some even killed. There was no commitment to holding these doctors accountable or to provide justice for these women’s families. Information about which doctors are trained to provide abortions, where to go for the service, or where to report any problems is not made widely available by the Ministry of Health. In addition, nothing has been done to reduce the stigma around abortion, there is little sex-education in the public schools, and public clinics do not always have all the family planning methods in stock. (See http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2233860 for more information). 

While Mr. Ramsammy nominally supported the LGBT rights movement in Guyana, he was unable to mobilize his colleagues to join him on this stance, or to translate this support into tangible action and relief for LGBTI Guyanese on the ground. The fact is that LGBTI Guyanese remain marginalized and stigmatized today, in large part because no influential public figure has stepped forth as a leader to vocally support and advocate for these rights in the public domain. Research has shown that many non-heterosexual and non-gender conforming Guyanese continue to experience disrespect and discrimination and receive poor quality service from the public health system. (See http://www.sasod.org.gy/sites/default/files/resources/CollateralDamage.pdf for more information). 

Domestic and interpersonal has been widespread in Guyana for many years. In numerous instances- for example the case of Former First Lady Varshnie Singh accusing former President Bharrat Jagdeo of hi-tech domestic violence and persecution, and the instance of Mr Ramsammy’s successor to the position of Minister of Health- Mr. Bheri Ramsaran cursing and threatening to slap and have a female activist stripped after she questioned him on the issue of maternal and infant mortality- Mr. Ramsammy has remained silent. He has shown absolutely no leadership- no desire or ability to confront his friends and/or those in positions of power who threaten and abuse others. By keeping quiet and toeing the ‘party line’, Mr. Ramsammy has put his own professional and political career ahead of justice and commitment to human rights. His lack of action has contributed to a climate of blaming and shaming those women who dare to speak out and challenge the patriarchal status quo. (See http://globalvoicesonline.org/2015/04/24/guyanas-health-minister-assails-womens-activist-says-he-wou.... for more information). 

The mental health sector of Guyana has been neglected for decades. According to the most recent data from the World Health Organization, Guyana has the highest estimated suicide rate in the Americas as well as globally. (See http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2014/suicide-prevention-report/en/ for more information). Mr. Ramsammy, during his tenure as the longest-serving Minister of Health of Guyana, from 2001- 2011, did little to ensure that there were more staff trained or funds allocated to adequately address this significant issue; he did not bring significant attention or resources to bear to address this dire societal problem. 

Apart from his numerous failings in the Guyanese public health arena which seriously tarnish whatever reputation he may have gained as some sort of global leader internationally, Mr. Ramsammy also has serious criminal baggage to consider. He been linked to the notorious drug lord and ‘death squad leader, Mr. Roger Shaheed Khan, who was recently convicted by the U.S government and sentenced to forty years imprisonment for cocaine trafficking, witness tampering, and illegal firearms possession. While serving as the Minister of Health, Mr. Ramsammy officially purchased sensitive ‘spy’ equipment to intercept cellular phone calls- equipment which was later found in the possession of Mr. Khan. Although Mr. Ramsammy denied involvement, his signature was on the bill of sales and sworn testimony to his involvement given in court by representatives of the company involved in the sale (see https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/09GEORGETOWN418_a.html, and  http://www.stabroeknews.com/2009/guyana-review/08/20/shaheed-%E2%80%98roger%E2%80%99-khan-drugs-dirt....; read for free here- https://saveguyana.wordpress.com/2011/05/09/minister-of-health-dr-leslie-ramsammy-linked-to-drug-lor.... for more information). 

We think it is misleading to characterize Mr. Ramsammy as a global health leader based on his poor track record on the ground in Guyana. Doing so is a grave disservice to the students of the T.H Chan School of Public Health and tarnishes the stellar overall image and reputation of the HSPH. A true leader would not aid and abet drug lords and death squad leaders. A true leader would ensure that the laws of his nation are properly implemented and justice and accountability provided to his fellow citizens. A true leader would stand against violence and intimidation and would work for human rights for all. For these reasons and others, Mr. Ramsammy has not demonstrated leadership to the people of Guyana. Make the Smart decision, Harvard: SAY NO TO LESLIE RAMSAMMY!

Posted May 18, 2015
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