Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
HIGHGATE, St Mary:
Health professionals had their hands full dealing with the hundreds of people who turned out at the Highgate Health Centre last Saturday to benefit from the services offered at the fifth health fair hosted by the United Friends of Highgate, with the Florida Chapter actively represented.
From mid-morning until well into the afternoon, they travelled from Clonmel, Fraserwood, Tremolsworth, Hopewell Pen, Richmond, Lewis Store, and other neighbouring communities, braving the showers to benefit from the comprehensive range of services on offer free of cost.
An ophthalmologist was in charge of eye care. HIV testing and counselling; dental care; Pap smears, testing for prostate cancer, being done by members of the Cancer Society; and general medical care for adults and children were just some of the activities undertaken by local and Florida-based health care professionals, ably supported by a host of local volunteers.
For Richard Campbell, chairman of the Health committee of the Fort Lauderdale-based chapter, who grew up in Highgate, it was a coming home with a difference - a working holiday of sorts. He was happy to be leading a team of Jamaicans now living abroad but who grew up in St Mary and are committed to giving back to the place they once called home.
"The goal is to try to provide some kind of basic assistance to the people of Highgate and surrounding communities that might not be readily available to them or might be difficult during the week," he told Rural Express.
Another member of the team, Nurse Audrey Williams, summed up the group's annual project this way: "We are giving back health care services to the people. That's our mission - to do all we can to help the people of Highgate - so this is just one facet of our assistance, of our work, that we do."
The success of the one-day event has been attributed mainly to the ongoing networking between the local and overseas chapters well in advance of the health fair, with the Highgate group advertising the event and the United States members bringing medication and their professional skill sets to the table.
For dental nurse Jacqueline Brown, the annual event also presents an opportunity to share some level of health awareness with the patients on a one-on-one basis. On a day when 21 persons were seen by the dentists, mainly for extractions, many of the adults were deferred because of high blood pressure.
Brown told Rural Express: "In many cases, they did not see the link between dental care and other general health issues, so we had to explain that given their high blood pressure on the day, why it was not advisable to do the extraction. So even if they did not get the tooth extracted, they left with a better understanding of how they can help to minimise the health risks to themselves."
Campbell is satisfied that the group is making a significant difference. In addition to the growing numbers, he pointed to some frightening cases.
"People walk in here with blood pressure so high you wonder how they are still walking, and immediately - because the doctors are here - they are able to get medication and bring it down. Then, it's right off to the hospital. We have had children come in here who are very sick and they get some immediate care, and then we send them off to the hospital.
"We are not doing this for the praise. We are doing this solely because we care. We grew up in this town. This town needs help, and we want to come back and do something."
Photos by Christopher Serju