TWO medical doctors yesterday expressed concern that only 12 cardiologists were in the island despite the fact that cardiovascular disease continues to be the number one cause of death in Jamaica.
Both Dr Ernest Madu, chairman and chief executive officer of the Heart Institute of the Caribbean (HIC), and Dr Dainia Baugh, the HIC president, raised the issue during the weekly Observer Monday Exchange meeting of reporters and editors at the newspaper's Beechwood Avenue headquarters in Kingston.
All the local cardiologists, they said, had received their schooling in other countries, because of a lack of training facilities in Jamaica for persons wishing to specialise in this area.
"One of the issues with developing countries of any kind, and particularly Jamaica, is that we don't train specialists in heart disease; and when the Heart Institute was developed, there were six practising cardiologists in the island and they were all in the local area," said Dr Baugh. "Very few people have access to the kind of care that we have outside of the metropolitan area."
Dr Madu said that the only cardiologist outside of the Kingston Metropolitan Area is in Montego Bay, which adds to the burden persons in other sections of the island who are suffering from heart-related problems have to bear.
"Jamaica is beyond Kingston, there are 14 parishes. There are people in Negril, in Portland and so on who now have to think about the human cost," said Dr Madu. "They now have to come down to Kingston to get even the most rudimentary care."
Dr Madu, who specialises in echocardiography, and is said to be the only US board-certified nuclear cardiologist in the Caribbean, pointed out that most areas of cardiology do not have a specialist.
"You talk about people treating heart failure and we don't have any such persons in Jamaica," he said, adding that the limited number of cardiologists has impacted on the treatment level for persons suffering from cardiovascular-related problems, which claims over 7,000 lives here annually.
He believes the lives of some of these persons could have been extended if Jamaica had more specialist doctors treating the various heart problems.
In the absence of doctors in some speciality areas here, Dr Madu said they have had to pass on patients' information to international doctors who review their cases and then give their opinion via the Internet.
"In the United States, for example, there are some minute areas in cardiology, where they will tell you there are only five people that deal with that," said Dr Madu. "If there are five people in the US, trust me, no amount of money will make us get one in Jamaica, but with the power of technology, we can access these people."
"In America, many of these cardiologists are Jamaicans, but they are not coming back home, because the tools are not here for them to practice what they have been trained to do," the doctor added.
Given the shortage of cardiologists here, the HIC introduced a cardiovascular tech-training programme three years ago. The programme trains persons to assist cardiologists in carrying out basic procedures such as echocardiography and nuclear cardiology among other things. Four persons have graduated from the training programme so far and are either working with the HIC or other hospitals.