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Eyes on Health - Diaspora urges Gov't to put policy in place to facilitate medical tourism

Published:Sunday | July 16, 2017 | 12:00 AMEdmond Campbell

With members of the Jamaican diaspora expressing serious interest in pouring investments into the local health sector, the Government, through its trade and investment promotion vehicle, JAMPRO, is working feverishly with the health ministry to craft a policy to facilitate health tourism in Jamaica.

Sancia Bennett-Templer, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health, told a Gleaner Editors' Forum at the newspaper's North Street offices last Thursday that the ministry had received expressions of interest from the diaspora to invest in the health sector, but noted that the policy framework was not in place to encourage and facilitate that type of investment.

"We really have needed to ensure that we have a clear government policy with respect to investment in health which is what JAMPRO is working on now. With myself at Health and my previous experience at JAMPRO, I think I can bring some experience to help to move that initiative along," she asserted.

However, the senior government technocrat admitted that health tourism in Jamaica would face the challenge of obtaining international accreditation. This could act as a barrier for persons overseas who want to use their health insurance in Jamaica.

The discussion on health tourism comes at a time when key government ministers and senior technocrats will this weekend engage Jamaicans from overseas at the annual Diaspora Conference between July 23 and 26, at the Jamaica Conference Centre, downtown Kingston. The conference is being held under the theme 'Partnering for Growth'.

Bennett-Templer said that in terms of diagnostic services in the health sector, the ministry was looking at public-private partnerships with persons from the diaspora. "We are doing the groundwork to identify the gaps and what would be the areas, parishes and facilities where we would encourage that kind of investment," she outlined.

Additionally, she said the ministry was moving towards the setting up of centres of excellence for health care.

Declaring that Jamaica has some of the best health-care professionals, Bennett-Templer argued that investments in health tourism would attract persons from the diaspora and international community to access health care in Jamaica.

Commenting on the contribution made by members of the diaspora to the local health sector, the permanent secretary disclosed that approximately 200 health missions visit Jamaica annually. Approximately 90 per cent of those missions are from the diaspora.

"They go into communities, health centres and hospitals to help to provide additional areas of care, and, in many instances, in specialist areas, providing services that are either not available or are of limited availability in Jamaica. That is a tremendous boost on an ongoing basis in the health sector," she added.

The diaspora has also made significant contributions to the public health sector, providing equipment, furniture and medical supplies to health facilities in Jamaica. Last year, the total value of those contributions was US$8 million.

The US$8 million did not include the value of the services provided.

"The conference will give us a chance to reconnect to persons who are very much our partners in the health-care delivery system in Jamaica."