Thu | Dec 13, 2018

A year of reform and alignment for the Ministry of Health

Published:Tuesday | December 26, 2017 | 1:00 AM
Sancia Bennett-Templer, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health; Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton; and Dr Karen Webster Kerr, principal medical officer for epidemiology, examine a section of the Quarterly Statistical Report- VITALS during the launch of the publication on November 16.
From left: Health Minister Dr. Christopher Tufton; National Health Fund (NHF) deputy chairman Dr Dana Morris Dixon; NHF chief executive officer Everton Anderson; Vincent Hosang, founder of the Vincent Hosang Family Foundation; and Dr. Praveen Kumar Sharma, radiation oncologist at the Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH), take part in a ribbon-cutting exercise along with other stakeholders to mark the official opening of the CRH's new cancer treatment centre on Friday, November 24. Also pictured are Mayor of Montego Bay, Homer Davis (back row, centre), and former Health Minister Dr. Fenton Ferguson (back row, right).
Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton (left) joins May Pen firefighters in a workout session during the Jamaica Moves Campaign road tour in May Pen, Clarendon on November 30.

Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton concluded that 2017 was a year of reform and alignment of the goals of the Ministry of Health, citing major steps taken to improve the quality of and accessibility to efficient public health care. With the launch of at least three new programmes to promote preventative health care and foster partnerships, Tufton said major strides were made this year to get Jamaicans to recognise their responsibility as a first line of defence for their health care.

“We believe the first line of defence can’t be the curative hospitals, it has to be to get people to understand that they have a big role in protecting their own health and the messaging around that for us has been very significant and it is something that has been getting through slowly and that we want to continue,” Tufton said.

It was with this in mind that the Ministry of Health, with the support of a number of corporate entities, launched the Jamaica Moves programme. This is an initiative to encourage increased physical activity and healthy eating among Jamaicans, in a bid to reduce their risk of developing non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes and hypertension.

“Jamaica Moves has been one of our more successful programmes in the Ministry and I say that because of the impact it has had in terms of awareness and recognition of the brand and the messaging linked to the brand across the country. We have received tremendous feedback about the initiative which encourages Jamaicans to engage in 30 minutes of physical activity, the value of that activity in terms of the fight against NCDs is a part of the preventative health care that we are promoting.”

To date, Jamaica Moves has been launched in eight parishes namely Manchester, St. Elizabeth, Westmoreland, Trelawny, Clarendon Kingston and St. James. Corporate companies have also launched internal Jamaica Moves programmes to encourage their staff to exercise with 16 companies participating in the Jamaica Moves Corporate Challenge.

The launch of Jamaica Moves came on the heels of the formulation of a 15-member National Food Industry Task Force, charged with devising strategies that can improve the dietary landscape and contribute to the reduction of the burden of non-communicable diseases in Jamaica.

“The National Food Industry Task Force was created through a wide cross section of stakeholder participation. The task force report lays the foundation for a range of transformative programmes that are geared toward healthier living as it relates to what people consume. It’s part of the preventative mechanism for public health. The intention is to overtime change consumer behaviour towards more informed choices that will limit the risk of consuming certain foods that clearly will impact your health.”

Using data, the task force is intended to adjust policy overtime towards providing greater information to consumers through proper labelling of food, the reformulation of food products by manufacturers to reduce the amount of salt, sugar, saturated and trans fat in their products, nutrition/health education and promotion and tackling inappropriate food marketing. 

Citing the ministry’s focus on improving primary health care, Dr. Tufton said that the Ministry has received over 50 expression of interests to adopt clinics and health centres. This was streamlined through the Adopt A Clinic programme launched in November.

“As you know, the Government is strapped for cash so additional support towards health care is always welcomed. Adopt A Clinic aims to channel that support in this area. Primary health care is the first line of defence for your health in that it is preventative. It’s about information and helping people to know their health status. The adopt a clinic has significant potential to engage greater community participation whether corporate or individuals, whether local or Diaspora towards supporting primary health care.”

On the curative side of public health care, Tufton said the opening of the first of two National Cancer Treatment Centre at the Cornwall Regional Hospital and the successful pilot of the reduced waiting time initiative in hospitals and health centres.

“The waiting time initiative has seen significant progress since it was launched. The data suggests that in extending the opening hours of these health centres up to 4 hours a day with more personnel, more equipment and infrastructure, there has been a reduction in the waiting time in the accident and emergency wards when people are triaged and redirected.”

Tufton said he intends to standardise this approach across the board in keeping with the Ministry’s mission to reduce waiting times in hospitals.

Health financing has also been a major obstacle for the ministry and Tufton said the signing of a six-month consultancy contract with Panama-based Sanigest Internacional for the company to create road map for the implementation of a comprehensive National Insurance Scheme.

“The NHF has laid the foundation given that it does represent a sort of insurance for free drugs but what we want to do is to build on that to offer additional services to Jamaicans, particularly those who can’t afford it, access quality health care. We have advanced the process by having a comprehensive assessment of health financing led by Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).”

Tufton said he expects a report from Sanigest within five months and which will allow for the scheduling of the implementation of the next phase of the national health insurance scheme.

A Mental Health and Homelessness report was also completed and tabled this year, giving  the foundation for dealing with mental illness and homeless in Jamaica.

“The report was quite revealing in that it outlines the extent of mental illness in the society. It focuses on stigmatisation, greater community participation and so forth for those who are mentally challenge and for those who have been abandoned in hospitals and so on, it seeks to address some of those concerns.”

Overall, Tufton said the Ministry of Health has evolved in a number of positive ways, key among them is that the Ministry is more transparent and open.

“We have approached the management of the Ministry and public health in a more open way and that’s because of a firm belief that we must be credible. To be credible is to be frank, to recognise the challenges and mobilise people support to overcome those challenges.”

With a greater emphasis on primary health care though Jamaica Moves and other public education programmes around sugar and its ill effects, Tufton said data is showing that more Jamaicans are believing in their own role in preserving their health.