#Editorial: Jamaica’s Healthcare System Needs Help From the Diaspora

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MIAMI, Florida – Retirees in the Jamaican diaspora have for the past several years been deterred from returning to Jamaica to reside because of persistent crime problems. However, in addition to the crime problem, a more recent deterrent relates to issues affecting Jamaica’s healthcare system.

Unfortunately, healthcare in Jamaica is one area that hasn’t kept up with the strides the nation have accomplished since independence in 1962.

While a shortage of doctors, nurses and other medical professionals is cited as one of the main challenges to Jamaica’s healthcare system, It’s also obvious that existing medical infrastructure has outgrown its efficiency to the expanding and aging population.

The demand for healthcare, especially at public health facilities, has far outgrown the ability of these facilities to provide the required services. At the root of the problem of the inefficiencies of the public health facilities is cost. Expansion of existing hospitals and clinics across the island is mega-expensive; not to mention the cost of building new facilities.

To the government’s credit, the incumbent Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. Christopher Tufton, has been working tirelessly to remedy the situation, but he and the government needs help, badly and quickly.

In rural Jamaica people travel long distances, often meeting transportation challenges, to see a medical professional. It isn’t unusual that the delay experienced in getting quick and urgent medical treatment results in death.

Recently, Dr. Tufton indicated the government is taking steps to upgrade the facilities at some rural clinics and hospitals. This is commendable, but because of cost challenges, the upgrades will be limited. Moreover, new clinics are urgently needed in several rural parishes.

There have been frequent accounts of people who have experienced delays in accessing critical public healthcare because they cannot afford medical supplies that they are required to take to hospitals to have surgery, for example. This request of the patients is necessary because the hospitals are genuinely short of supplies, and in several cases also short of related medication.

Every year, medical teams from the Diaspora visit Jamaica bringing temporary care, medical supplies and equipment to patients and healthcare facilities across the island. This is commendable.  But when the medical team leaves the health problems reappears. The medicines distributed by these health teams can only last so long, leaving the patients with serious challenges in getting more medication.

Jamaica’s healthcare challenges send an urgent call to the Diaspora for a structured, organized approach to assist in this critical matter.  Rural areas need more health clinics; existing health facilities need more equipment, medical supplies and structural repairs. The list of needs lust keeps expanding.

Earlier this month Jamaica’s Consul General to the Southern US, Oliver Mair, accompanied by Minister Tufton, launched a 5k Run initiative to take place in five US cities, including two South Florida cities, on October 5.  Proceeds from the people registrated for the event will go towards the adoption of a Jamaican health clinic by the Diaspora community.  This is part of the Adopt-A-Clinic program under the Ministry of Health and Wellness, a primary healthcare renewal strategic initiative to engage Jamaican private sector and Diaspora communities to play a critical role in improving the provision and access to primary healthcare in Jamaica.

Commendable as this initiative is, it essentially borders on the periphery of Jamaica’s healthcare problems.

Realistically, the Diaspora cannot comprehensibly solve Jamaica’s healthcare problem. For example, it cannot provide the government with the funding necessary to meet the wage demands of healthcare professionals and help stem the migration of these professionals. But the diaspora can play a pivotal role in improving the conditions of the healthcare facilities which could encourage more professionals to remain and work in Jamaica.

With the exception of response to national disasters like hurricanes, the Jamaican Diaspora has not for some time been involved in a singular, coordinated project to directly assist Jamaica.

The healthcare crisis in Jamaica is shouting to the diaspora to plan, develop and implement, for example, a Jamaican Diaspora Healthcare Resuscitation Program.

This would be a huge task for the Diaspora. But, it’s a task that with effective leadership and coordination can be accomplished. The government is in dire need of help to alleviate the pressures on the healthcare system.

Besides retiring Jamaicans need to return home to a competent and reliable healthcare system, almost everyone in the Diaspora has a relative living in Jamaica. The challenges of the healthcare system will affect these relatives in some way if they are not overcome.

The Caribbean National Weekly calls on the Diaspora to utilize its available, relevant resources to meet Jamaica’s healthcare challenges. More than short-term medical missions and occasional shipments of medical supplies and equipment are needed. Jamaica’s healthcare requires a sustained approach from the Diaspora to alleviate the prevailing problems.

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