EDITORIAL: More needed from the Diaspora to improve Jamaica’s infant healthcare

Both Jamaica and the Diaspora have been reeling over the shocking and tragic reports of unprecedented newborn deaths from infections contracted in the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) neo-natal intensive care unit. The shock only escalated following a Ministry of Health (MOH) report, stating that since June this year, 18 out of 42 babies in the neonatal intensive-care unit have died from hospital-associated infections at the Cornwall Regional Hospital and the UHWI. Based on such data, this mean that three out of seven infants die in neonatal intensive-care.

The news brings deep heartbreak in particular for the Diaspora, which has done much to give back to children’s healthcare back in the homeland. Over the years, countless groups in the Diaspora have sent funds, equipment, furnishing, and medical supplies to assist hospitals and clinics in Jamaica. And many diaspora medical missions visit the island on a regular basis, providing general healthcare to both urban and rural communities.

But the frequent surge of infant deaths must lead us to ask – is the Diaspora doing enough? And can we be an effective force against the widespread shortfall among the medical field, and the government’s apparent apathy – or outright helplessness – with this issue? The government’s initial response to the crisis proved completely out of touch. During a press conference on the new report, Health Minister Dr. Fenton Ferguson and his team told journalists that such deadly outbreaks “happen from time to time” in special-care nurseries.

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This crisis only hints at a deeper healthcare plight in Jamaica, as outlined in a recent report released earlier this year from the Jamaica Medical Doctor’s Association. President Dr. Alfred Dawes publicly revealed the deplorable conditions of the nation’s healthcare system, particularly in public hospitals. Dawes particularly was alarmed by the lack of equipment vital for surgeries and doctors working in substandard conditions at serious risk to patients and themselves. While ministry of health officials didn’t take kindly to Dawes report, the ministry did promise steps would be taken to improve conditions, but certainly not in time to save the lives of 18 infants since this summer.

Although Jamaica is challenged by severe financial constraints, it’s far from being a deplorably poor, backward nation. Every measure should have been consistently taken to ensure the treatment of infants, children and adults at the nation’s hospitals are conducted under the strictest hygienic conditions, and with the technology and personnel required. And health officials shouldn’t seem socontent with such high level of fatalities among infants in neonatal care. The news that the European Union, through the Reduction of Maternal and Child Mortality program, has approved J$243 million in healthcare contracts, is heartening, particularly the program’s focus on improving quality of care for premature infants and high risk pregnancies.

However, much more is needed. And the Diaspora must play its part. Gone are the days where the Diaspora’s sporadic donations and medical missions were enough. A more systemic approach is required, uniting all the Diaspora’s resources into a singular and ambitious focus, instead of divided into smaller goals set out by scattered organizations. Firstly, we can do much more with boosting personnel, by supporting scholarships and programs to nurture a larger pool of talent. And, with several gifted medical practitioners living in the Diaspora, a Jamaica/Diaspora healthcare monitoring unit should be established to monitor the development and maintenance of Jamaica’s healthcare infrastructure, and the quality of care provided.

With so much at stake, it is disappointing that the future of Jamaica’s healthcare was not among the official recommendations released from this 6th Biennial Jamaican Diaspora Conference. It did not include more in-depth proposals for a stronger, more systematic collaboration between the Diaspora and Jamaica to strengthen the nation’s healthcare system. Regardless, it’s clear that there is much more systematic assistance that’s needed from the Diaspora to improve the nation’s healthcare system.

 

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