Dr Alfred Dawes says he is determined to have a say in policy, particularly when it comes to the health care of Jamaicans, and is urging like-minded nationalists to join in the fight against the old type of politics which has held the country in its grip for the better part of six decades.
Dr Dawes threw many for a loop recently when he made public his intent to vie for the St Catherine South Eastern seat on a People's National Party (PNP) ticket. The seat is currently held by the Jamaica Labour Party's Robert Miller.
Renowned as one of the Caribbean's leading general, laparoscopic and weight loss surgeons, Dr Dawes is well aware of what awaits in the political trenches but says he is ready and dead set on contributing to a change in the political landscape.
The former head of the Jamaica Medical Doctors' Association told the Jamaica Observer that, "The younger Jamaicans who want to contribute to national development [and] who are looking at my entry into politics: Even if it is not my party that you're interested in and you don't agree with it, go join the other side because it's not a PNP or JLP division in the country that needs to be fixed, it is an old-school politics versus a new type of politics that is at war in Jamaica. And I'm only one soldier in the new-school type of politics, and I'm looking for soldiers in PNP and JLP to join this fight to change our politics."
He said he arrived at his decision to enter the political fray not by accident, but by a compelling desire to tackle the challenges in the country's health profile from the inside out.
"My passion throughout my lifetime has been health care, and I've tried to improve the health of Jamaicans in various capacities — from an intern, going all the way up through the system to a senior medical officer of a large hospital, as well as through advocacy — and I realise that the greatest impact one can have is via the policies and directing how human and resources are allocated," he said.
Dr Dawes pointed out that health care is impacted not only by personal habits but by policy and laws spanning economic policies to health infrastructure and national security.
"So whether it is the economic policies causing us to be poor [and] not being able to afford health care, or the health infrastructure being rickety, or urban planning where we don't have enough green spaces for us to de-stress, to our safety and security through controlling crime, it is easy to conclude that the best way to have the most far-reaching impact on health care is to be in that room when policy decisions are being made. Otherwise, we will continue to leave decisions that are impacting our health and other aspects of our lives to persons who may be planning from an election cycle to another election cycle," he reasoned.
He stressed that with this national objective, well-thinking Jamaicans need to claim their share of the decision-making, on either side of the political aisle.
"What we need is a mass movement. I'm only one person but I'm sure there are others."
Dr Dawes made clear that he has no illusions about the journey he is embarking on.
"If I understand the implications of politics? That is a question I've been asked by my family and friends who are unanimously dead set against me going in, because [upon] becoming a part of the political system in Jamaica, character assassination [is] inevitable. It drains your resources financially, there is the threat of physical harm coming to you and your loved ones," he said, but quickly pointed out that the answer to this is not to retreat.
"If we continue to treat politics and politicians as dirty and untouchable, why do we leave the management of our country to persons we hold in such little regard? Unless we go in — and as Trump would say, drain the swamp — try to enact the changes that are needed so that politics doesn't have that nasty reputation, we will continue to repel the brightest and the best from seeking to go into representational politics. We can't have it both ways — keep cussing politics [but] never going in, and then keep expecting that politics is going to attract persons for the job of running the country and making policies that affect the lives of our children and grandchildren," he stated.
Dr Dawes does not expect any detrimental effects on his career as a medical practitioner, noting that he has already been scaling back on his day-to-day practice for more than a year now, having pivoted from one-on-one patient interactions and surgeries with his 'road to Damascus' moment' when he decided to focus primarily on cancer screening, and care.
"Cancer screening is not a one-on-one type of medical practice. What I have been trying to do [is] starting with one but hopefully progressing to several screening centres where I can multiply the effects of my work so that Jamaicans can be adequately screened of cancer and other diseases. So I had already made that move, and I am still very committed to it. As to my surgical practice, I still intend to dedicate some of my time to doing surgery because I do know that I have a skill set that a lot of people are demanding. My greatest worry is about mixing surgery with politics in terms of the time required to both, but as to the rest of my medical practice, I have already made some allowances," he said.
Of the actual thrust and parry of Jamaican politics, Dr Dawes pointed out that already he is seeing he underbelly of the political sphere whereby persons have been seeking to label him as being a part of one or another faction in the PNP, and as such should be denied the support of some.
"It's very disturbing because the PNP is not made up of divisions or camps; it is a political movement. And if one is going to represent, it does not mean they should be aligned to a faction. It needs to stop; that is what is turning off so many people. So, already the attacks are coming, and it is expected. It is something I have to learn to deal with because it is a part of the game," he asserted.
Councillor for the Edgewater Division Alrick Campbell launched his campaign for the St Catherine South Eastern seat on March 12, which means there would have to be a run-off for the candidacy. The seat was previously held by the PNP's Colin Fagan from 2007 to 2020.