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Diaspora fed up

Observer staff reporter

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

AN ambulance that could be the difference between life and death has been sitting on the wharf for almost a year, even as Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton calls for a partnership with the Diaspora.

Tufton, during the second day of the Jamaica 55 Diaspora Conference at Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston yesterday, said the country's health system is underfunded.

According to the minister, the World Health Organization indicates that for public health to be optimally addressed Jamaica should be guided by at least six per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). He disclosed that in the public sector it is 3.3 per cent of the GDP and “about five” when the private sector is taken into account.

The GDP is the total value of goods produced and services provided in a country during one year.

“…Our health infrastructure is ageing and does pose a challenge to the curative side of what we face. So the result of that tends to be long waiting times in hospitals and transaction costs that tend to be higher because we are not as efficient as we ought to be…” the minister told scores of Jamaicans who returned to the island for the four-day conference which began on Sunday.

He noted that in 2016 the Diaspora contributed US$8 million in value to public health through missions to the island, donations of material and motor vehicles, among other things.

“The Diaspora does play an important role in helping public health from where you are situated in your country. So far this year we have seen about US$6.7 million in value and that's growing…” Tufton said, adding that the ministry has launched a programme to engage the Diaspora in a more meaningful and long-term way at the level of primary health care.

But several members of the Diaspora, including those from the United Kingdom (UK), yesterday expressed frustration with Government over the difficulties experienced when attempting to clear items of donations through Customs.

Linda Hudson, a barrister now residing in the UK who is originally for Hanover, explained that members of the Diaspora in the UK raised 40,000 to buy an ambulance for the Noel Holmes Hospital in Lucea.

Hudson said all procedures were followed as stipulated by the ministry, but 11 months later the ambulance remains at the wharf.

“Dr Tufton, this idea that the Government is demanding $3 million to release that ambulance, the value of which is close to $10 million, is simply ludicrous in my mind. And if the IMF (International Monetary Fund) feels that that is an important requirement then it cannot be right,” the woman said to applause from delegates.

But Tufton explained that the Government's hands are tied as it relates to the current IMF programme. He noted that under the current IMF agreement, in terms of gifts and charity, motor vehicles are not included.

“I have personally appealed to the Ministry of Finance and spoken to my colleague, Minister [Audley] Shaw, who has since recently indicated that he will grant a moratorium on the US$39,000 that is required to clear the [ambulance] and allow us to budget to pay for it in the next financial year,” said Tufton.

At the same time, he urged members of the Diaspora who are seeking to make vehicular donations to consider how they would be cleared, just as they consider the procurement, because the rules have changed based on the debt profile of the population.

“The IMF stipulation is that we have to pay the debt and we musn't give up revenue on certain things. I can't influence that beyond what is there…” the minister shared.

As at April of this year, approximately 50 per cent of the country's ambulances are out of service. The South East Regional Health Authority has 21 units, six of which are functional; the North East Regional Health Authority has 12, eight of which are functional; the Western Regional Health Authority, 12, seven of which are functional; the Southern Regional Health Authority, 15, nine of which are functional; and the ministry's Emergency, Disaster Management and Special Services, four, three of which are functional.

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