A way to deal with major health needs

Sunday, August 10, 2014

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In Alexandria, St Ann, 16-year-old Atallia Williams, described as being "unconscious" since a motor vehicle crash two years ago, is not in a medical care facility.

Instead, she is at home, being cared for by her mother, Ms Nadine Beckett Miller, who is at her wits' end trying to make ends meet. While the mother has received help — including from the business sector to set up a chicken rearing project — it has obviously been haphazard.

Mrs Cherine Allen-Powell of Manchester is recovering from heart surgery in Texas after struggling for a long time to raise the money for the operation.

As it turned out, surgery only happened after a Texas-based Jamaican-born physician, Dr Carlton Clarke, read Mrs Allen-Powell's distress story in the Jamaica Observer while vacationing in the island.

He set up the links which led to Mrs Allen-Powell's operation, hospital stay and rehabilitation — all of which cost, we are told, US$250,000. That cost is being borne by the host hospital.

Sad stories such as these are fairly commonplace in Jamaica.

This desperate search by individuals to get financial help to resolve sometimes basic, though expensive, medical conditions reflects the crisis of inadequate resources facing Jamaica's health sector and at a wider level the social security system.

Unfortunately, Jamaica's "tight fiscal space" dictated by an unavoidable debt reduction and economic rationalisation/restructuring programme means the situation won't get better any time soon.

It will take years of economic stability and dynamic growth before Jamaica is able to afford a health care and welfare system that is anywhere near satisfactory.

So, in the meantime, should society simply throw up its hands and leave distressed individuals, such as Mrs Allen-Powell and Ms Nadine Beckett Miller, to fend for themselves?

Obviously not. So what's to be done?

We think it would be useful to contemplate a comment by Dr Clarke as he discussed Mrs Allen-Powell's plight. Said he: "I found it hard to imagine that a patient would be denied care because of inability to pay and allowed to die — totally inconceivable in this day and age. There are charitable organisations willing to help, if only asked."

Clearly, as the situation now stands, those most in need don't know who to ask for help or where to go. They are, in effect, floundering in the dark.

This is where we believe the Ministry of Health, working with hospitals and medical practitioners, community groups, and private voluntary organisations, can play a very proactive role.

Surely it wouldn't be too difficult for a small, focused unit working out of the Ministry of Health to be the hub — receiving information on those in desperate need, and also acting as a liaison connecting potential donor agencies, companies, groups and individuals.

Until the day comes when Jamaica is able to adequately provide from public resources, it seems to this newspaper that Government, working with all well-thinking Jamaicans, must be creative in finding ways to protect the most vulnerable.




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