Health budget falls short
Set against the context of acute shortage of materials, medicine and manpower, a health budget of $50 billion may not be enough to put the country's health services in a position to deliver quality service to most of its patients.
Even though this allocation, announced in the 2015-2016 Estimates of Expenditure, represents an increase of $7.7 billion over last year, it may not result in substantial improvement to what is now being described as a dire health-care service unable to cope with the daily demands of the population.
Minister of Finance and Planning Dr Peter Phillips, and his technical staff would have crafted this Budget while keeping an eye on the current economic programme of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It is a programme that demands fiscal discipline.
But the fact is that the health of the population is one of the most important responsibilities of a government. And it is, indeed, a sharp indictment on Government that the majority of politicians and wealthy Jamaicans, including doctors, often dash off to overseas locations for medical care.
So the big questions are: Will patients who turn up at health-care facilities continue to wait for long hours before they are able to get medical attention? Will there be an ease in the shortage of materials and medicine in health-care facilities? Is protection for the most vulnerable factored into the health-care budget?
If the answer to these questions is no, fundamental changes are necessary to adequately address and fund the country's health-care needs. The Medical Association of Jamaica has been advocating greater collaboration between the public and private sectors to ensure better funding and management.
Currently, a discussion is taking place about salaries and benefits for nurses and other health-care workers. Stagnant wages, pitted against the rising cost of living expenses, has driven many health-care professionals away from Jamaica in search of better opportunities. It is conceivable that some of the brightest and best have left their posts. There has to be a way to retain our hard-working, dedicated staff so that patients can be assured of the requisite quality care to get them better.
Despite these areas of concern, we note that the health budget is paying attention to the HIV/AIDS control programme in the face of emerging news that more powerful, resistant strains of the virus have been detected. It is also critical for Jamaica to place greater emphasis on this programme, with international assistance set to come to an end soon. The Government has nearly doubled allocation to the programme, up from $172 million to $320 million for the year ahead.
There is to be an increase in the allocation for health promotion, by $100 million, which is a move in the right direction given the misinformation that reached the population during the late 2014 chikungunya epidemic. It is widely recognised that a better job could have been done to avert some of the misery and suffering experienced by patients.
Hopefully, this will enable the Health Promotion and Protection Division of the Ministry of Health to provide better direction in areas of disease prevention and control.
We are not convinced that the budget allocated to health will result in better protection of the most vulnerable in society. We are also not convinced that the priority areas have been addressed. Creative minds in the private and public sector will need to come together in partnership to turn the sector around as suggested by the MAJ.