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Making Jamaica a drug capital

Published:Monday | June 18, 2012 | 12:00 AM

By Garth A. Rattray

Our austerity Budget ended up being about collecting income from taxes. I certainly understand the dire and urgent need to do so, but what we really need are innovative ways of generating real (foreign) income.

It's way too late to present ourselves as a source of offshore banking; the international climate militates strongly against that (even the Vatican bank is under the microscope since investigations were opened into possible money laundering). Therefore, the best way to earn real income is through production and export.

Apparently, we have plateaued as far as traditional and non-traditional exports are concerned. Trans-shipment port fees can go so far and no further, so we need to look to groups of businesses that have vibrant but unilateral trading relationship with us. I am not referring to CARICOM (uneven trading relationships and all), I am alluding to companies from which we buy (import) a great deal of essential products manufactured and packaged elsewhere - I am alluding to the many drug companies from which we must purchase life-saving medicines.

The world economy is linked to the United States dollar (USD). We trade in USD or the equivalent of it. We quote houses, cars, airline tickets, apparel, hotel rooms, equipment and various other commodities in USD, but only a very select few can quote their salaries in USD. The reason for this is as plain as the nose on your face - the only cheap thing in Jamaica is labour/services.


This administration would do well to encourage the foreign drug companies to meaningfully invest in Jamaica. There are seven local drug manufacturers on the Pharmacy Council of Jamaica Register, but there are about 11 foreign brand-name companies and close to 20 generic drug companies that are doing business here. Although they contribute significantly to our welfare and (medical/health) education, these are businesses that must make profits (for their growth, overseas).

I can see no reason why Jamaica should not be the manufacturing hub for drugs destined for the Caribbean, Central, South and North America region. People suffer from many, chronic lifestyle-related illnesses and a myriad of other maladies that require the constant supply of several medications. Production, packaging and labelling in the drug industry is very big business, but these aspects remain untapped resources for us.

The manufacturing of medications is highly mechanised and computer-controlled, but human labour is essential for handling and shipping (raw material in and finished products out). We would create jobs and earn foreign exchange from exporting those products made right here in Jamaica. We could also manufacture packaging (bottles, boxes) and labels.


If international drug companies were to invest more than just enough for their administrative needs in Jamaica, it would signal a true commitment to the development and, therefore, overall health of our people. Remember, health is not merely the absence of disease; it has to do with the overall welfare of individuals. I see quite a few sick people who suffer because of their socio-economic circumstances. They could be made well again with a financial injection rather than with a prescription for drugs.

The National Health Fund (NHF) is a lifesaver. Over the past eight years, it spent about $1.5 billion on the Jamaica Drugs for the Elderly Programme alone. This is outside what is spent for the regular NHF programme that co-pays for about 15 diseases.

However, the NHF cannot effect better national health by improving the living standards of our people (about half a million Jamaicans are living in poverty). Nevertheless, if drug companies were to invest in manufacturing in Jamaica, they would provide more jobs (help to grow our economy), earn us foreign exchange and reduce drug costs to the region.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to and