Tue | Oct 22, 2019

Editorial | New children’s hospital critical to national development

Published:Thursday | September 19, 2019 | 12:08 AM

The recent announcement by the Ministry of Health and Wellness that the long-planned 220-bed children’s hospital to be built in western Jamaica will finally break ground is welcome news. The hospital, first announced by former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller many years ago, is to be funded and built with Chinese government’s assistance. The only specialised hospital facility for children in the country is the Bustamante Hospital for Children in Kingston, which is inadequate.

The planned completion date of mid-2021 should be a target that the Government seeks to ensure. The long refurbishment of the Cornwall Regional Hospital has put tremendous strain on facilities across the western parishes.

The entire health sector is under great strain and in need of a significant injection of additional resources. While the health status of the country has improved significantly since Independence, the hospital and healthcare facilities have not kept pace with the needs of the growing, and now ageing population. Many facilities and equipment are either run-down or ageing. Supplies to ensure good patient care are often absent. Often, hospital medical supplies, linen, and foodstuff have to be supplemented by families if patients are to get well. So, even with the no-user-fee policy in place, patients have to bear a significant proportion of the cost of their care.

In the current environment where the cost of healthcare is increasing faster than the general consumer price index, and the population ageing quite significantly, there will be an increasing need for more investment in the health sector. Many areas like mental-health care will require additional resources and attention.

INFANT MORTALITY RATE

While the Government undertakes its much-needed development of new infrastructure and the refurbishment of old ones, it is important to again draw attention to the need for special attention to Jamaica’s infant mortality rate.

This rate measures deaths in the age group 0-1 year. It is an important indicator of the overall well-being of a community as most of these deaths, in the modern era, can be avoided. The many debate and rumours about the deaths of premature babies in our hospitals over the years speak to the deep concern the society has about this issue.

In 1960, the rate in Jamaica was 60 deaths of children under one year old per 1,000 live births. In the post-Independence period, that rate fell to 15 per 1,000 by 1997. To have achieved this reduction in the infant mortality rate, the country had to show gains in the control of infectious diseases, sanitation, availability of high-quality water, nutritional status of mothers and infants, prenatal and medical care, access to reproductive health, better education for women and girls, reduction in gender-based violence, and increased real income. This one measure, infant mortality rate, tells a significant story about a country’s development status.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

Unfortunately, since the 2000s, Jamaica has seen a general slowing down of the pace of reduction of the infant mortality rate. The rate in 2017, at 12.8 per 1,000 live births, was the same as in 2004, according to Government of Jamaica and World Bank figures.

Although Jamaica’s rate is in line with upper middle-income countries globally, there is room for improvement. In Costa Rica, another upper middle-income country, the rate currently is eight per 1,000. The average figure for high-income countries, according to the World Bank measure, is five per 1,000 live births.

Improving healthcare requires more than additional facilities, supplies and health personnel. Access to good, inexpensive and quality healthcare for the population as a whole is a national challenge. The planned National Health Insurance, properly funded, to be rolled out next financial year, will be of great importance in this quest.