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Health care can attract investment, says Alexis

Published:Monday | October 20, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Dr Shane Alexis (right), president of the Medical Association of Jamaica, looks on as his vice-president, Professor Marvin Reid, addresses a Gleaner Editors' Forum held earlier this month at the newspaper's North Street, Kingston, offices. Rudolph Brown/Photographer

John Myers Jr, Gleaner Writer

Jamaica's health sector is one of the most important but ignored areas in terms of its potential to attract investments.

Dr Shane Alexis, president of the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ), argues that aside from medical tourism, there are areas in Jamaica's health-care system that have the potential to attract significant investments and generate attractive returns for the economy and investors, thereby contributing to the economic development of the island.

"Hopefully, the Government will start to identify clearly the public opportunities for some of the resources that many private institutions report as profits to start being invested into some of these areas," Alexis told a Gleaner Editors' Forum earlier this month at the newspaper's North Street, Kingston, offices.

"The public sector is underserviced in terms of certain kinds of diagnostic machines, services, etc., (and) there is an opportunity for that to be expanded," he added.

According to the MAJ president, "The health component has to be one of the strongest components of any growth plan.

"Education is one component, but health is an important component that perhaps has not got the attention until now," he added, pointing out that "unfortunately, we have seen in Jamaica where health continues to be seen as a cost (or) expense and not as an investment".

Jamaica's potential in establishing itself as a medical tourism mecca has been emphasised many times over, and has already started to attract investments for the set-up of state-of-art medical facilities to cater to tourists mainly, and locals secondarily.

plans for mobay hospital

Spain's Hospiten Group announced plans in March this year for the construction of a US$20-million state-of-art medical facility in the tourism capital of Montego Bay on Jamaica's northwestern coast.

Hospiten's chairman, Dr Pedro Luis Cobiella, said the 22-room hospital would be sited at the scenic Cinnamon Hill in Rose Hall, and would be equipped with an image diagnosis centre, a surgical block, an intensive-care unit, a clinical analysis lab, and a 24-hour emergency room.

The Hospiten Group operates 16 hospital/medical centres, and more than 100 health centres in Spain, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and now Jamaica.

Arnaldo Brown, the state minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, also revealed last year that members of the diaspora were now organising to invest US$200 million to build a health facility in Negril, Westmoreland.

Valarie Steele, president of the Jamaican Diaspora Canada Foundation, said at the same meeting that expatriates were willing to walk miles with the Jamaican Government to improve health care and develop health tourism.

"I can't think of a better place to recuperate from anything than Jamaica. As long as the bureaucracy does not prevent us from going forward, we are in it for the long haul. Many of us no longer have a foot in the grave, we have a whole leg, so it behoves us to make sure that we help Jamaica to rise," said Steele.

View health sector as growth launch pad - MAJ head

The medical fraternity is urging the Government not to ignore the importance of Jamaica's public health-care system to economic growth, pointing to the impact of the current chikungunya (chik-V) epidemic on productivity.

Dr Shane Alexis, president of the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ), said the allocations to the island's health-care system are generally regarded as expenditure rather than an investment. He argued that this was a mistake, as a poorly resourced public health-care system could adversely impact the economy of the country.

"Now that we are having more discussions around health, now that the private sector and financial sector have now seen what the impact of absenteeism is, they will start to see it as an investment [and] that [it] now matters what is happening in health," Alexis said.

Last week, the PSOJ estimated that about 13 million man-hours have been lost as a result of the virus. There have also been numerous reports of widescale absences from schools as students, teachers and administrators fell victim to chik-V.

"You can easily see that a healthier society is a more productive society," added the MAJ president, who was participating in a Gleaner Editors' Forum at the newspaper's North Street, Kingston, offices last Wednesday.

According to Alexis: "If you had a health sector, [where] perhaps the turnaround waiting times were less, we have less people being lost to diabetes, hypertension, our meals were healthier, etc., we could see where we would be more poised for growth."

Despite the importance of the public health-care system, it continues to be plagued by a chronic shortage of resources to adequately fund the purchase of medical equipment, drugs and to recruit medical personnel to cater to citizens.

The allocation to the Ministry of Health in the 2014-15 Estimates of Expenditure by the Government was J$34 billion.

Notwithstanding the increased demand on the public health-care system, Alexis stressed, "We are still struggling to cross four per cent of GDP a year in terms of a health budget ... ."

Professor Marvin Reid, executive member of the MAJ, said: "At this point in time, one of the concerns we have is that the quality of service is so varied and to a large extent is almost like a lottery, depending on where you go and what time you go."

Reid: "That should not be the case. Ideally, what we would like to see is a system that the general population accepts, trusts, and is adequately resourced, that is able to deliver the kind of care that we actually should receive."