Health infrastructure and equipment upgrade long overdue

Health infrastructure and equipment upgrade long overdue

Friday, January 31, 2020

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A most important development in the health sector got lost in the panic triggered by social media postings of a suspected case of the coronavirus at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) on Tuesday.

That anxiety resulted in the island's health officials — among them Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, UHWI's Medical Chief of Staff Dr Carl Bruce, and Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Karen Webster Kerr — calling an emergency news conference to deny the reports and assure Jamaicans that the country was prepared to deal with any case of the deadly virus, should the need arise.

However, earlier that day Minister Tufton signed a contract for an upgrade of infrastructure and equipment at some of the island's major hospitals and health centres. That, everyone will agree, is along overdue.

Dr Tufton told us that the Health Systems Strengthening Programme, as it is named, is being funded by the Inter-American Development Bank and the European Union in the amount of $9 billion.

That is a significant investment, and should be commended because it represents a move to seriously treat one of the ailments of the sector that has, for too long, been receiving attention that was not adequate enough to meet its needs.

According to Minister Tufton, a national assessment has revealed that more than 70 per cent of hospital equipment and infrastructure in the country's public health system are outdated. We have, he added, failed to construct a new hospital for the past 30 years.

The upshot is that the existing facilities, with outdated equipment and infrastructure, are being asked to serve the needs of growing populations without the commensurate resource expansion to meet the demand.

That, as Minister Tufton correctly stated, cannot be fair. Not to the Jamaican people or to the health professionals who work at those hospitals. In fact, he pointed to the folly of that reality when he reminded us that the last time Jamaica retooled or retrofitted or did a major injection of hospital diagnostic infrastructure was just before the World Cup Cricket tournament in 2007.

While we understand and accept the importance of having good health services for a global competition, such as the Cricket World Cup which attracted thousands of visitors to Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean, there is no excusing our neglecting to upgrade those services, after the event, to satisfy the demands of our people.

Dr Tufton reminded us that the World Health Organisation benchmark for health system resources is six per cent of GDP. Jamaica, he pointed out, is somewhere in the region of four per cent. We therefore have a lot of work to do.

As such, we expect that this Health Systems Strengthening Programme will be extended beyond the initial beneficiaries — Spanish Town, May Pen, and St Ann's Bay hospitals, as well as the health centres in Old Harbour, Chapelton, and Greater Portmore — even as we acknowledge the fiscal constraints being faced by the Government.

Strengthening the public health system can only redound to the benefit of Jamaicans and the country in general.

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