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“I rejoice at this first meeting”

Interview with Mirdad Kazanji, Director of the Pasteur Institute of Guiana

Mirdad Kazanji is the Director of the Pasteur Institute of Guiana and a member of IFGR. On the occasion of the session he will host, he presented to us the major challenges of managing water in this region and the advantage of bringing the members of the association together around the subject of health.


What are the main challenges now facing Guiana regarding its management of water resources?

For me, there are three main types of challenge in Guiana, a country rich in water, but which exploits it badly in terms of health, energy and security. In isolated villages, access to drinking water and facilities for draining wastewater remain meagre. The inhabitants of these villages use wells for drinking and cooking. The water is often contaminated by faecal matter and heavy metals like lead and mercury, which are often linked to clandestine gold prospecting along the Maroni. Producing energy with water is another considerable challenge. There is only one hydroelectric dam and very few experiments with run-of-the-river dams. Moreover, there are few regulations concerning river transport, although many pirogue owners transport people and goods, especially on the Oyapock and the Maroni. It would be interesting to make these rivers navigable in order to make transport safer and less pollutant.

How is the Pasteur Institute involved in the issue of water resources?

The Pasteur Institute has been present in Guiana since 1940 and plays a major role in identifying, preventing and treating infectious diseases. It is equipped with unique infrastructures in the region for carrying out research, supporting public health, and training. The analyses performed on the river and well water are currently all done at the Pasteur Institute in collaboration with the Regional Health Agency (ARS).

We also carry out epidemiological surveys in the field to understand the circulation of infectious and vector diseases, particularly in the regions located close to rivers. They are more vulnerable to diseases transmitted by mosquitoes such as dengue, Zika and chikungunya. There are also waterborne diseases. Several years ago, Guiana was struck by a cholera epidemic, propagated by water. There are now epidemics of gastroenteritis aggravated by the contamination of wells, with a high risk of mortality among very young infants.

What are you expecting from the next IFGR session?

Despite the fact that water is ever-present in Guiana, there has never been any consideration given to its links with health and I’m very glad about this first meeting! Focusing on the Maroni and all the health issues linked to the river provides a unique opportunity to bring all the actors together around the same table, to think about how to reduce the impact of the problems of drainage, infectious diseases and the damage caused by clandestine gold prospectors.

This event is also an opportunity to make the general public aware of the importance of rivers, which are sources of life, but also of risks if they are not well managed.

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