Thu | Dec 13, 2018

Dr Alfred Dawes | The power of us in bettering Jamaica’s public health system

Published:Wednesday | October 11, 2017 | 12:15 AM
Dr Alfred Dawes

One of the first things Eric Clarke did when he assumed his role as chairman of the Management Committee of the Savanna la Mar Public General Hospital was to get the Friends of the Sav la Mar Hospital incorporated as a charity. This simple act has changed the way in which we in the public health sector collaborate with charitable individuals and organisations.

Unwittingly, an experiment has unfolded over the last year and a half. Although still being fine tuned, there is now a model that can be used to foster greater participation from Jamaicans at home and abroad in developing the health sector.




The Savanna la Mar Public General Hospital in Westmoreland has suffered from being a Type B hospital in a region with a Type A Hospital - the Cornwall Regional Hospital. All hospitals handicapped by similar location challenges struggle with funding and staffing.

The Spanish Town Hospital and May Pen Hospital - the poor cousins of Kingston Public Hospital and Mandeville Regional Hospital, respectively - have struggled, while the larger hospitals gobble up scarce resources allocated to their respective regions.

Staff naturally gravitate to the well staffed and better supplied hospitals, perpetuating a terrible cycle that will never be broken without restructuring of the regional health authorities.

Such has been the situation at Sav la Mar Hospital for decades. The continued neglect and understaffing naturally had a negative impact on patient care and resulted in the stigma that so commonly gets attached to public hospitals. But how do you improve an institution when it continues to exist in such a flawed system?

Cue the Helping Hands.




Dr Trevor Dixon and the JAHJAH Foundation, Andrea Daley, Marva Haye, Catherine Haala, The Issa Trust Foundation, Food For the Poor, Lorna Rawle, the American West Indian Medical Association, The Jamaica Awareness Association of California, among others, have been helping with the development of the hospital.

However, with some of the entities, there were issues with clearing of equipment from the ports. In spite of the taxes being waived for donations to the Foundation of the Ministry of Health, there are still significant levies and fees that need to be paid in order to release shipments of medical supplies.

In many instances, donors are not aware or can't afford to pay these costs that can reach in excess of $400,000. Oftentimes this leads to seizure of donated items by Jamaica Customs. Hospitals are left with the responsibility to raise these funds on many occasions, as the Ministry of Health and donors cannot foot the bill. Raising these funds can be very difficult, to say the least.

This is where the Friends of Sav la Mar Hospital (FOSH) has made a big difference. Large companies such as Jamaica National, Scotiabank, Sagicor Bank, Petrojam, and private individuals have found it more palatable to donate to an organisation mandated by law to be accountable, and that is out of the reach of the usual bureaucracy that governs public sector business.

With the donations from these entities and individuals, we have been able to clear several containers loaded with much needed medical supplies. The multiplier effect has seen greater spending by the western region on capital budget items to augment donated items they did not have to purchase.

The result, a significant increase in the medical equipment, quality of beds and stretchers at the institution. The hope is that we will continue to attract staff who are realising the changes taking place at the institution. For those who know from whence we came, we have come a long way.




Quite heartening as well has been the support of the Westmoreland Community. Local hardware stores, contractors, hotels and civic minded individuals have not only donated cash and kind, but have actually come to the hospital to do work on the doctors', nurses' lounges, and to build a patients' bathroom in the Emergency Department.

There are too many to mention by name and I must crave their forgiveness for not listing all who have been helping. It is because of donations why an ultrasound suite is currently being constructed. Donations have outfitted a special care nursery for neonates. And it is with donations that we plan to acquire a C-Arm to facilitate Orthopaedic surgeries at the facility.

We are often quick to highlight the faults with our institutions, especially schools and hospitals. But very few trash-talkers have actually done anything at all to improve their state.

In an age of selfishness, it is a ray of hope to see the private sector and Good Samaritans joining together to make a difference. There is still some good left in Jamaica. It simply has to be tapped and channeled appropriately. So many persons have expressed their desire to help but just don't know how to.

If Jamaica is to meaningfully develop, it will have to be a mass movement that will force the change. But we can start with pockets of change-makers working on special projects - hospitals, health centers, schools, community centers, etc.

If enough of us believe this, then these pockets will one day coalesce into the movement we need to develop our country.

P.S. I'll spoil my sober ending by shamelessly soliciting funds for the C-Arm and other much needed equipment. To contribute please donate to the Friends of Savlamar Hospital. This Account Info: Friends of Savanna La Mar Hospital, NCB Savlamar branch 614731796.

- Dr Alfred Dawes is the Senior Medical Officer at the Savanna La Mar Public General Hospital, Westmoreland. He is also a General Laparoscopic and Weight loss Surgeon at the Island Laparoscopy and Medical Care; Email:;