EXPANDING HEALTH SERVICES

Jamaica 2018 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | REVIEW: HEALTH

Though still quite young, Jamaica's health tourism industry is packed with potential, and industry stakeholders are investing heavily in efforts to attract visitors from across the region.

As Jamaica continues to develop its national health system, the country has taken steps to improve quality of care, expand healthcare penetration, and reduce out-of-pocket costs. According to the most recently available statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO), the top five causes of death in Jamaica are stroke (16.5%), ischaemic heart disease (11%), diabetes (10.8%), HIV/AIDS (6.6%), and hypertensive heart disease (5.5%). Life expectancy at birth is 74 for males and 79 for females. Additionally, per capita health expenditure sits at around USD480, and total health spending accounts for roughly 5.4% of GDP. Government spending accounts for around 60% of this expenditure, according to statistics from the Ministry of Health (MOH). Jamaica has improved in every category of its Millennium Development Goals, but financing issues and reductions in government spending may hamper the country's efforts to reach the next set of health benchmarks.

In an effort to combat the spread of disease and to improve healthcare dispersion, the government has recently voiced interest in forming public-private partnerships with healthcare companies. According to the MOH, the country has around 500 private pharmacies in the country, and the government estimates that public-private initiatives could increase access points for healthcare by almost 190%. Such a partnership would reduce the financial burden on the National Health Fund (NHF) by outsourcing the ordering and storing of pharmaceuticals to private pharmacies. With nearly 2.2 million prescriptions written every year, government officials and private sector observers hope that such a system could improve the efficiency of medication distribution across the country, while reducing costs to the public sector.
Laboring hand in hand with efforts to bolster public-private initiatives, stakeholders are working to foster the small but growing health tourism industry on the island. State-of-the-art medical facilities are popping up all across Jamaica, drawing health tourists from over the Caribbean. Already a prime destination for tourists looking to soak up the sun, Jamaican officials hope to tap into the nearly USD3 trillion global health tourism industry by leveraging their expertise in traditional tourism. The island's proximity to the US and its robust diaspora community make Jamaica especially attractive for investors looking to capitalize on health-related businesses. Dialysis treatment has proven especially robust, and international and domestic firms are expanding their footprint. As the island continues to open world-class clinics and hospitals, like the USD1.5-billion GWest Centre in Montego Bay, observers expect the nation to attract more visitors interested in relaxing and rehabilitating.
Another core concern for MOH officials is the implementation of modern information systems across the healthcare landscape. According to the MOH, public healthcare facilities currently manage over 6 million paper-based health records, creating high wait times and inefficient care for patients. With consultation from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and WHO, the MOH has been working to implement a new E-Health solutions system. According to the MOH's National Health Information System Strengthening and e-Health Strategic Plan for 2014-2018, the government hopes to transform the health system in Jamaica by implementing modern medical technologies in all 14 of the country's parishes.
A unique part of the Jamaican health system, medical cannabis has begun to play a larger role in the island's medical environment. Government officials have taken very public steps to align themselves with the industry, and Karl Samuda, Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, recently reiterated the government's commitment to medical cannabis, according to the Jamaica Observer. In an exclusive interview with TBY, Hyacinth Lightbourne, Chairman of the Cannabis Licensing Agency (CLA), discussed the government's thought process behind introducing medical cannabis. “Ultimately, what the world needs with regard to this progress is research,” said Lightbourne. “One cannot deny its efficacy when it comes to seizures, especially with children, as well as cancer patients and pain management.” As the government continues to navigate the medical cannabis landscape, it hopes that the industry can bring growth to both the traditional healthcare space and the medical tourism industry.