Tue | Jan 21, 2020

Health rights come with responsibilities, insist doctors

Published:Wednesday | February 13, 2019 | 12:07 AM
Linnette Vassell

Maternal, Neonatal and Infant Health (MNIH) advocacy specialist, Linnette Vassell, sparked a fire of discussion among doctors when she presented recently at the Jamaica Medical Doctors’ Association (JMDA) ninth Ethics Conference at Mona Visitors’ Lodge, St Andrew. The event, held under the theme ‘It Goes Both Ways’, was attended by medical professionals and exhibitors.

Vassell’s presentation was themed ‘Human Rights in Patients’ Care’, which she noted reflected the rights and responsibilities of both patients and healthcare providers.

She highlighted fundamental health rights, including a patient’s right to access health services, receive safe and professional care, get open and clear communication, respect, privacy and confidentiality, participate in decisions and choices, and comment on care received. She noted that these rights did not always receive recognition, especially for high vulnerability groups.

“We need to be committed to stamping out stigma and discrimination in our healthcare system,” she said. “We have to address the uncomfortable issues.”

Making reference to a recent article by Ricky Pascoe, president of the Jamaica Network of Seropositives, urging healthcare practitioners not to coerce women living with HIV to ‘tie off’, Vassell emphasised the need for sensitive consultations between doctors and patients on these issues, acknowledging that both groups had rights and accompanying responsibilities.


Some of the doctors present accepted Pascoe’s view, pointing to the dramatic decline in mother-to-child HIV transmission. According to UNAIDS, the figure was less than 100 in 2016.

However, attention was drawn to the grave dangers involved. One doctor shared his experience with a patient who had transmitted HIV to her three children, and asked whether in this situation, it was not his responsibility as a medical practitioner to strongly advise the mother against a fourth pregnancy.

The doctors also spoke of threats and abuse which many faced on the job, and queried whether they had the right to refuse to treat these patients. They also lamented the fact that many patients do not understand that they, too, are human beings who have to take lunch and bathroom breaks.

The issues raised, Vassell commented, pointed to the importance of sensitive, respectful and clear communications between patient and provider based on a genuine acceptance that each person has rights and responsibilities, despite differences of social position, education, etc.

Vassell was at the function representing the Partnership for the Promotion of Patients’ Rights in Maternal, Neonatal & Infant Health in Jamaica, which is a European Union-funded project jointly implemented by The University of the West Indies and the Women’s Resource & Outreach Centre.

The project’s objective is to increase awareness and advocacy around health rights, especially regarding maternal, neonatal and infant health. A Collaborative Forum has been formed among civil-society organisations to address specific issues that have been identified relating to human rights in patients’ care.