Sat | Mar 17, 2018

Growth & Jobs | Jamaica has favourable health-care options - Jarrett

Published:Tuesday | June 13, 2017 | 12:00 AM
From left: Earl Jarrett, chief executive officer of the Jamaica National Group; and Dr Geoffrey Williams and Dr S. Vengopal, who were honoured by the Association of Surgeons in Jamaica for their contributions to surgery.

The health-care system can deliver improved services to Jamaicans and develop the medical tourism sector with some adjustments in regulations which now hinder its development, says Earl Jarrett, chief executive officer of the Jamaica National Group.

"One measure of the challenge is that more than 2,000 persons were awaiting elective surgery, some for more than two years," he said, in an address to the Association of Surgeons in Jamaica (ASJ).

He said that changes to the tax system are needed to support more investment in hospital facilities, and adjustments in immigration rules are also required to permit more talented foreign doctors to serve in the Jamaican health system. Additionally, he urged the surgeons to ensure that the needs of the sector are heard at the national level.

"Globalisation has led to the transformation of nation states and businesses to a new reality," Jarrett stated. "In today's new economy, we must change our business model to repurpose Jamaica to take advantage of the services sector."

"You must begin to think about the future and how we need to be adaptive to survive in that world," he added. As the ASJ celebrates 59 years of existence, he declared that the 130 members need to develop a plan for its growth over the next 59 years, and ensure that its position is heard in the ongoing dialogue about the country's economic future.

"With a growth rate of just about one per cent over the past 40 years, and high debt burden, there is no country that can have the best resources in the world," Jarrett told the surgeons. He was addressing the ASJ's 59th Annual Awards Banquet on May 20, at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel.

That service limitation is related to the fact that Jamaica reports approximately 0.406 physicians per 1,1000 members of the population, compared with 7.519 per 1,000 in Cuba, and 2.55 per 1,000 in the United States of America.

"This limited outcome is reflected in our daily experience," Jarrett said, referring to the backlog in elective surgery reported in December by health minister Dr Chris Tufton. "It is a reflection of underinvestment over many years."

"For decades, medicine in Jamaica was about treating some people within the country," he stated. "For the rich, the response was simply to get stabilised in Jamaica, and jump on a plane to England for their treatment."

"That created a negative environment in Jamaica," he pointed out. "Therefore, it is important to establish a system in which everyone can participate. When you do that, it is like a mutual organisation in which everyone benefits."

'Move centre of economy from goods sector to people sector'

There are 48 hospitals across the country today, compared with 33 hospitals in Jamaica in 2003, Jarrett pointed out. Despite that expansion in service provision, he indicated that there is clearly room for significant growth.

"We need to attract the appropriate capital to create the space in which surgeons like yourselves can practise," he told the ASJ members. "We need find a way in which investment capital that is available elsewhere, comes into this country to support building those institutions."

The Customs Act was changed in 2003, enabling some medical equipment to enter the country duty free, he stated. "We need to go further than that. We need to recognise that these are tools of the trade in the services sector. They are not luxuries to be taxed heavily."

Referring to the Health City Cayman Islands medical facility, founded by heart surgeon Dr Devi Shetty, Jarrett said, "He had a vision to make health care accessible to everyone."

The institution has served 25,000 patients in The Cayman Islands and across the region since it began operating in 2014, he said. Its success was based on support from two political administrations in Cayman providing the necessary incentives, along with support from doctors and nurses from India.

"In comparison with Cayman, Jamaica ended up as a country with high barriers to many things including people involved the business of medicine," Jarrett said. "The fact is that it is difficult to get a work permit for outsiders to come here."

To reproduce the success of Health City Cayman Islands in Jamaica, "We will need to accept that the economy has changed," Jarrett stated. "We must move the centre of the economy from the goods sector to the people sector, and sell the services of our people globally. We must embrace technology and computing and see medicine as an economic driver."

Jarrett also urged the ASJ to reach out to surgeons of Jamaica heritage who live overseas. He suggested that they should, "See the ASJ not as a network of surgeons in Jamaica, but a network of surgeons across the world."