What are the major health challenges in Jamaica, and how does the Ministry address these?
Non-communicable diseases are a significant burden. Seven out of every 10 deaths in Jamaica, roughly 17,000-20,000 deaths a year, are linked to non-communicable, lifestyle diseases. There are two approaches to respond to this; one is to promote preventative measures. This is more primary healthcare, where we push for persons to live healthier lives, engage in physical activity, and manage their consumption habits. We have launched a number of strategic partnerships with companies, such as Nestlé, to promote healthier living and lifestyles. Although we do partner with private sector companies, we are also guided by a food and industry task force. This looks at consumption habits, measures to be taken going forward, and a regulatory framework to discourage the consumption of certain things, such as sugary drinks. The other approach is curative, which is how to provide specialist services to treat those with cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, hypertension, or cancer.
What is the potential for health tourism in Jamaica?
Jamaica does have an opportunity for health tourism for a couple of reasons. Jamaica already has a tourism product and a reputation of service. There is a familiarity both regionally and further abroad in Europe. We currently provide health services to some of our regional colleagues. Some of our hospitals provide specialist services that are not provided in some of the smaller islands. Our other advantage is the relatively low cost of healthcare in Jamaica. In North America, the cost of healthcare is quite high. North America is also an attractive source market because of its proximity. And we are seeing now how products tailored to this segment are emerging. The ministry is looking at public-private partnerships for major, new infrastructure development. We are building out the public-private framework that will see private capital invested in infrastructure.
What kind of interest are you seeing from international healthcare groups in Jamaica, and how do you think that compares with other islands in the region?
Jamaica, from a regional perspective, is one of the more attractive locations. For starters, we have a larger population than many other islands. There is an internal market. Second, there is easy access to the island by air from the key centers in North America, Europe, and the region. Third, we already have a market for local persons seeking specialist care outside of Jamaica because they can afford it. This is a small group; nevertheless, they have overseas health insurance and a disposable income. Four, most of the time if not always, it will be cheaper to have that care done here than in North America. Combined with expertise, there are opportunities to capitalize on international interest.
What is the position of the ministry on medical marijuana?
While we do not support recreational smoking, the ministry does support the exploitation of medicinal extracts from marijuana. We are represented on the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA). We provide the medical guidance as it relates to CLA, how it functions, and the requirements to institutionalize the industry. The government, through the CLA, has already issued a few licenses and more will come in the future. We went to WHO and asked for marijuana to be reclassified from a narcotic to an input for medicinal value and use. I know the export group at WHO is looking at that, and other countries support it. And we are part of the process of advancing that. Jamaica has a reputation for growing, and we do have the intellectual capacity at the university level to do research from which to benefit. We have to depend on partnerships to fully exploit the possibilities. The downside has always been the acceptance of marijuana by the international financial system. We are preparing ourselves to benefit from the industry. However, that will require some international partnerships to achieve.