Public health: We can't continue like this

Friday, July 28, 2017

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Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton's admission of the inadequacies of Jamaica's public health system is beyond challenge. Indeed, that fact and many other sordid details of the problems afflicting public health have been exposed ad nauseam in both the print and electronic media for many years.

Therefore, when Minister Tufton told delegates attending the Jamaica 55 Diaspora Conference this week that “our health infrastructure is ageing and does pose a challenge to the curative side of what we face” he was really reiterating a well-known fact.

What, therefore, is important is how we tackle this nagging problem, because this country cannot continue to fail its citizens in this vital area. A stark and most frightening indication of that reality was revealed at this week's sitting of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) in Parliament. According to the health officials who appeared before the committee, approximately 300 children are on a waiting list for cardiac surgery at Bustamante Hospital for Children. If that was not bad enough, we are told that these children will have to wait at least another three months before the first of those surgeries is done.

The issue of the new cardiac wing at the hospital was discussed at that PAAC meeting with the permanent secretary in the health ministry stating that the facility is now ready and final arrangements are being made to have it equipped by mid-August.

We recall the expressions of joy and hope when ground was broken for this cardiac wing in February 2013 by then Prime Minister Mrs Portia Simpson Miller.

“This new cardiac wing will provide an increased number of paediatric Intensive Care Unit beds in Jamaica, reduce waiting time for such surgeries, and decrease the number of children on the waiting list for surgery,” Mrs Simpson Miller said at the time.

We had hoped that the facility would have been up and running already, given that it was being constructed under a public-private partnership agreement with support from Chain of Hope UK, Digicel Jamaica, Sagicor Investments Ltd, Gift of Life District 7020, the Caribbean Heart Menders, and the Congenital Heart Institute of Florida.

Indeed, at the ground breaking the country was told that Digicel Jamaica had donated $100 million and Sagicor Investments Limited had pumped in $40 million towards the construction of the cardiac wing.

Such displays of corporate philanthropy do not deserve the lethargy that appears to have dogged the construction of this facility. For, as PAAC member Mr Mikael Phillips correctly stated, when a project such as this, which really is a gift, doesn't become a priority “it touches right at the core”.

Hopefully there will be no further delays with this facility. But even with that, this country needs to get its act together in the area of public health. It is, we admit, a huge and expensive task. Minister Tufton pointed to that in his address to the Diaspora Conference, pointing out that the World Health Organisation indicates that for public health to be optimally addressed Jamaica should be guided by at least six per cent of gross domestic product.

That makes it clear that what is needed here is a national effort. For the sake of all Jamaicans, let us get it done.




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