Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Gifts can bolster health sector

Published:Wednesday | November 23, 2016 | 11:00 AM
Britta Hay

Jamaica receives annual donations of roughly $3 billion for the health sector. Increasingly, struggling economies are depending on donations to meet pressing health-care needs, for they lack the inventory of medical equipment and supplies to diagnose, treat and rehabilitate patients.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that up to 80 per cent of medical equipment in developing countries is funded or donated by international donors and foreign governments.

While exploring options to achieve sustainable funding for the health sector, Fourth Floor participants revealed that donations to the health-care system could be significantly higher.

"The goodwill is there. I can attest to it. No week goes by without some group or some individual overseas coming to us," said Wayne Chen, chairman of the Southern Regional Health Authority (SHA).

"We could double the donations if the system is rationalised," suggested Howard Mitchell, who heads the Healthy Lifestyle and Wellness Foundation.

Giving a rough forecast, Mitchell believes "we can reduce the budgetary expenditure to the health sector by $6 billion within a year, by simply rationalising the donations structure".

 

A FANTASTIC IDEA

 

The foundation was established by the Ministry of Health during the previous administration in 2015 and Mitchell has the task of giving structure to the ideas embodied in the movement towards greater health.

"I think it is a fantastic idea," he offered, while explaining how the foundation will help to promote the concept of a high-performing health-care system for the 24 hospitals and more than 200 health centres.

One of the components of the foundation's work is to establish a more targeted and holistic response to donations. Guidelines for donations will ensure that they are properly transported, stored, sorted and delivered to the recipients.

Approved by the previous Cabinet but never implemented, Mitchell and his team will now implement the ministry's gift policy, which includes establishing a basic needs list of the health-care facilities. The foundation has been accorded charitable duty-free status and will have its own customs broker so that goods shipped directly to the foundation will be cleared from the wharves free of duty.

 

SOMETIMES GIFTS DON'T MEET NEEDS

 

While donations are given with goodwill and best intentions, sometimes gifts do not meet specific needs, and often come with other problems, such as being close to expiry date, instructions written in a foreign language, or equipment without manuals to operate them.

Mitchell said construction of a website is under way and is designed to inform potential donors of the needs of the sector.

"We will go to the regions and establish a basic needs list, and we will put this on the website. We will require the regions to let the foundation know when they are getting donations so we can coordinate it."

Private-sector representative, Alicia Foster, vice-president of Guardian Life, suggested that more needed to be done by the institutions to engender confidence.

"Hospitals need a total restructuring of their management systems, inventory controls, ensuring greater efficiency and more optimal use of the limited resource they have. It will encourage greater public-private partnerships because the private partners will feel more confident that the money they spend and the gifts they give will not be abused but will be put to good use."

 

PROMOTING CULTURE OF WELLNESS

 

The other important component of the foundation's work involves promoting a culture of wellness. A recent Gleaner-commissioned survey found that 68 per cent of Jamaicans are now doing some form of exercise, ranging from walking to swimming. A total of 95 per cent of the persons surveyed in September by Johnson Research Services Limited said it was important for them to remain healthy.

This culture of fitness is being embraced by the current health minister, Dr Christopher Tufton, who aims to inspire fellow Jamaicans by himself jogging around town.

As he eases into implementation mode, Mitchell said: "We are going to establish walking trails, and encourage people to eat properly. Fenton Ferguson started it and we will continue."

He added: "We need a campaign. There is the inclination, and we need to reinforce the will, and then we need to get the regularity in there."

Agreeing with the merits of mounting a national campaign to promote and strengthen the idea of a healthy population, actuary and risk manager Britta Hay offered this: "People look at their fixed resources and say maintenance is important. Well, keeping a healthy lifestyle is like maintenance of your most important resources, which is the people who are working for the country."