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JIS News

With its mission to reduce the burden associated with the high cost of healthcare delivery in Jamaica, the Institutional Benefits Programme of the National Health Fund (NHF) is well on its way to fulfilling its mandate, having allocated some $1.7 billion in funding to over 50 projects in its first year of operation.
The Institutional Benefits Programme was launched last May and according to programme manager, Baldwin Tucker, the primary goal is to finance programmes aimed at ensuring greater efficiency in service delivery at the nation’s public health facilities.
Funding is also earmarked for projects aimed at promoting healthy living, he adds. Since its inception, the programme has funded projects ranging from post-Hurricane Ivan rehabilitative repairs at a majority of the island’s 23 public hospitals, to a comprehensive four-year training initiative aimed at improving the professional abilities of the 53 categories of healthcare workers and support staff in the Health Ministry. Funding was also committed to better equip the Spanish Town Hospital’s laboratory, an x-ray machine was purchased for the National Chest Hospital, and blood pressure machines and scales purchased for health centres.
He notes also, that the programme has financed the acquisition of telecommunications equipment at three institutions and the NHF is in the process of contracting the services of someone “to give us a national perspective in terms of [equipment] needs and I suspect that’s the route we will go as far as equipment is concerned.”
The Institutional Benefits Programme, Mr. Tucker informs JIS News, is one of two benefit programmes under the NHF, the other being the Individual Benefits Programme, which offers drug subsidies for persons with chronic illnesses.
Both programmes are funded through the NHF, which falls under the umbrella of the Ministry of Health. Mr. Tucker explains that monetary support for the NHF comes from government’s coffers. “Our funding is based upon a 23 per cent take of the excise tax placed on tobacco, a percentage of the special consumption tax, and a percentage of the revenue of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), which totals $2 billion per annum,” he discloses.
Explaining the criteria for funding under the Individual Benefits Programme, Mr. Tucker informs that, “first of all, we look at the organisation, we look at the management structure, we look on their ability to execute a project of its nature, we look on the project itself, the sustainability issues that arise from funding a particular project because you may have a project that once grant funding has ceased, the project comes to a halt, and there is no further benefit; we would not want to get into a situation like that.”
“We would want to be involved in a project that is sustainable because there is no sense you are channelling funds into an effort that would come to a dead stop once you have taken a backseat,” he adds.
Projects being submitted are also required to meet the Health Ministry’s 11 essential public health functions. These include health promotion, social participation in health, research in public health, and the reduction of the impact of emergencies and disasters in the country’s health.
In light of the NHF’s stringent measures for project approval, Mr. Tucker stresses that the Fund does not make financial provisions for projects from individuals, but from organisations.
He says that the Institutional Benefits Programme for the most part, is reliant on requests, as the programme is yet to attain public prominence. The Health Ministry’s four regional health authorities dominate submissions for funding, but the Manager says applicants have also come from service organisations such as the Rotary Club, and the University Hospital of the West Indies.
Every project submitted for funding has to be granted approval by a sub-committee of the NHF, but there is a cap of $15 million that the sub-committee can actually approve. Any project exceeding $15 million requires the approval of the NHF’s Board.
Offering his assessment of the work of the Programme after its first 12 months of operation, the Manager tells JIS News, “I think the Institutional Benefits Programme brings a surgical focus to some key issues in healthcare, namely our infrastructure, training of health professionals, and I am sure this would not have been realised without the NHF and so .even though we are just coming out of the embryonic stages of the development of this programme, I would say we are doing pretty good to date.”
As time progresses, he says, “I suspect that [the focus of the programme] will change over time, from infrastructure to more health promotion preventative type of interventions, which right now would complement our Individual Benefits Programme.”
In terms of impact on the Jamaican health sector to date, Mr. Tucker explains that the programme fills a “sizable gap”, and has been of great assistance in financing the upgrading of health facilities. “Those are funds that would not have been available to the Health Ministry without an Institutional Benefits Programme,” he asserts.
The Manager is proud of the Programme’s accomplishments to date, having disbursed more than $1 billion to a myriad of projects in a very short period of time, but says that efforts will be made to improve the project management capacity of the regional health authorities to effectively supervise and administrate the projects.
“We have sought to address these capacity issues as far as project management through training and the allocation of funding for the development of respective project teams in the regions, so you have this hands-on approach so you can actually see project realisation, and realise the objectives of what the project was realised for in the first place,” he states.
For the financial year ahead, Mr. Tucker tells JIS News of plans to enhance the visibility of the Programme, and the fact that it funds health projects. While several workshops and seminars were hosted in the four separate regional authorities last year to provide information on the funding and how agencies could go about submitting a project, he says there is now need to promote the Programme to the non governmental organisations (NGOs) in the country.
“That now needs to be translated to NGO’s in terms of promoting it to service organisations, and we actually plan to have a series of workshops this year to promote that aspect of the NHF to NGO’s,” he notes.
Organisations interested in acquiring more details about the requirements that are necessary to access funding through the Institutional Benefits Programme, can visit the NHF’s website at nhf.gov.jm. The website, Mr. Tucker informs, “has the Individual Benefits Programme listed, and there is an application form and should you need further information or clarification, you can call into the office and persons are willing to assist and guide you through the application process.” The telephone numbers for the NHF are, 906-1106, 920-1920, 920-6607, 929-2740, 929-9412.