THE EDITOR, Sir:
I write in response to your editorial of January 31, 2013 titled 'Health policy suffers from ADS'.
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are responsible for 56 per cent of deaths in Jamaica. Twenty per cent of these deaths are caused by cancers, the most prevalent of which include cervical, breast and prostate cancers. Each year, the Government spends an estimated US$170 million on treating NCDs and related complications.
This is not just a local problem. The epidemiological shift in recent years from communicable to non-communicable diseases has affected the entire Caribbean. The World Health Organisation and the Pan American Health Organisation have challenged all countries in the region to reduce premature deaths from NCDs by 25 per cent by 2025.
Jamaica has to be strategic in the areas in which we make the investments to obtain the necessary gains. Health promotion is among them but constitutes a more medium- to long-term solution hinged primarily on effecting cultural and behavioural changes.
Other interventions are focused on primary health care (PHC) - a priority of the Government which has been elaborated on ad nauseam. This community-based strategy provides the opportunity for early counselling for prevention, diagnosis and consistency in the treatment of patients.
This is being done through the continuation of the Primary Health Care Infrastructure Renewal programme in which more than 80 health centres have already been refurbished, as well as the development of a PHC Centre of Excellence in each regional health authority. These centres of excellence will be equipped to deal with a wide range of illnesses, including cancers.
A National Technical Working Group/Task Force on Cancer Prevention and Control has been set up to develop that component of the National Strategic Plan for the Prevention and Control of NCDs in Jamaica 2012-2017.
Last November, we officially opened the Ambulatory Chemo-therapy Unit at the Kingston Public Hospital to enhance care for cancer patients, which treated 162 patients up to December.
We are not proposing to establish a 'Mayo Clinic' in Jamaica; we are aiming to have a system of excellence where cancer care is concerned and not a "system of excellence for NCDs", as your editorial purports me to have said. This thrust towards overall excellence, however, is well in keeping with the current focus on NCDs and primary health care.
FENTON FERGUSON (DDS)
Minister of Health