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Jamaica lagging behind in medical tourism with no accredited facility

Published:Monday | October 7, 2019 | 12:06 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer
From left: Dr Aung Tha Thein; Carol Straw, tourism and services manager at JAMPRO; Elizabeth Ziemba, president of Medical Tourism Training Inc; Dr Sharon F. Kleefield, Harvard Medical School & Medical Tourism Training; and Edward Stephenson, Caribbean representative for Temos, have a chat at the forum last week Sunday.

Local stakeholders and members of the diaspora are still eyeing prospects for the island to establish a booming medical tourism sector by enticing foreigners to fly to Jamaica to seek world-class services.

At a forum staged by Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO) on September 29, various speakers made it clear that they would not give up on the vision.

While they acknowledged that it was important to improve Jamaica’s healthcare framework to benefit every citizen, the event mainly focused on building out the island’s medical tourism brand.

The forum, titled ‘Meeting the Needs of Patients: Strategies to Improve Quality and Safety for Health Care Organisations’, was staged through a partnership with JAMPRO, the Ministry of Health and Wellness, the Medical Association of Jamaica, and international healthcare accreditation entity Temos.

Temos’ Caribbean representative, Edward Stephenson, told The Gleaner that many medical procedures involving foreigners take place at Jamaican facilities, but successes are downplayed. He explained that many people overseas have contacted him to discuss prospects of doing business in Jamaica. However, the island has no medically accredited facilities, which Stephenson cited as an important step.

“As Caribbean representative, I am saying that if we get a couple clinics and hospitals accredited, then it would definitely take off in the rest of the Caribbean,” he said. “What Jamaica does, the rest of the Caribbean follows. Accreditation would uplift the quality of care locally, and for those international patients, they are seeking. If you want insurance companies to pay, then you need to get accredited and that is really the mission. It would be cheaper to get things (some medical procedures) done here than in the US.”

Stephenson explained that members of the diaspora, like himself, “come back home for dental care and so on”.

He added: “At the University Hospital of the West Indies, they are doing kidney transplants, which go unnoticed. We are doing things that should be recognised. You will get a whole lot more people coming down who are non-Jamaicans with insurance. There are only two accredited health facilities in the Caribbean – one in The Bahamas and another in the Cayman Islands.”

Medical Tourism Training Inc President Elizabeth Ziemba hailed the Government’s for its efforts to use medical tourism to boost the economy.

“The Government of Jamaica has identified medical tourism as one of its potential economic development sectors. People want access to the best-quality healthcare services possible, whether on a local or international level. All people want access to good, quality medical services. That is also a part of the mission of medical tourism training and a key component of Temos’ accreditation,” Ziemba said.

Tourism and services manager at JAMPRO, Carol Straw, acknowledged that with no accredited facilities, Jamaica was being held back and was missing out on the island’s competitive advantages “in terms of our location, the quality of our doctors, and the whole brand we carry as a tourism destination”.