MONTEGO BAY — Every October, a team of medical professionals from Atlanta in the United States close their private practice or take leave from their jobs, and head for the sunny shores of Jamaica for a few days.
They do not come to the island for fun and relaxation; instead, they are volunteering their time and skills to treating less fortunate Jamaicans in St. James and surrounding parishes.
The medical team has been coming to the island since 1993 as part of the Montego Bay/Atlanta Sister Cities Health Mission, which emerged from the 1972 twinning of the cities of Montego Bay and Atlanta. The partnership has blossomed over the years into an annual health fair, which has been embraced by many.
A total of 25 doctors, including dentists, ophthalmologists, gynaecologists, paediatricians, podiatrists and general practitioners; nurses and non-medical volunteers, participated in the latest fair held from October 10 to 12 at the St. John’s Methodist Church Hall in Montego Bay.
Jamaica’s Honorary Consul to Atlanta and Chairman of the Atlanta branch of the Sister Cities Committee, Hon. Vin Martin, says that the mission has, to date, addressed the health needs of approximately 45,000 Jamaicans, with some $65 million in medical supplies and services donated.
He recalls that on the first visit 18 years ago, the team saw about 650 patients and the numbers continue to grow each year. “We have grown to see about 3,000 patients per year, and we have been taking medications in for these patients of approximately
$3 million to $4 million annually,” he tells JIS News.
Mr. Martin says that this year’s mission was the biggest yet, with 4,000 to 4,500 patients seen over the three days.
Despite the challenges caused by the global economic recession, the native of the parish of Trelawny, says that serving the people of Jamaica is a “critical goal of our mission and our organisation and we are going to continue to do that for as long as we can”.
Noting the invaluable support of local medical personnel and volunteers,
Mr. Martin says the health mission would never have been possible without local input. He mentions the contributions of Chair of the Montego Bay Sister Cities Committee, Metty Scarlett-Jones; Mayor of Montego Bay Councillor Charles Sinclair and his staff; the Ministry of Health; some 30 volunteers from the Seventh Day Adventist Church and nurses from Dr. Channer-Watson’s medical facility in Montego Bay, and as well as other doctors and volunteers.
Councillor Sinclair, in the meantime, is praising the selflessness of the health professionals, who incur costs, to provide free and quality care to Jamaicans.
In the early years, the mission benefited from assistance from various organisations and agencies, but, with the economic recession, much of that support has dried up and the members have had to pay their way to the island and take care of their own accommodations.
“They are giving from their hearts,” the Mayor says. “It is certainly with great appreciation that we acknowledge the invaluable contribution that the medical volunteers have made over the years to our people through this programme. They epitomize two key concepts associated with the field of health care – that of volunteerism and quality service,” he adds.
He says that the annual health mission complements the services provided at the many public health facilities and conforms to the Government’s free health care policy.
Medical Director of the Health Mission, Dr. Deborah Haynes, tells JIS News that serving on the annual health mission, where so many lives have been positively impacted, has been a great joy for her over these many years.
She says that in addition to treating chronic conditions and dispensing medication, the medical team seeks to educate patients on the importance of proper diet and exercise in managing their conditions.
“These are the kinds of things we are trying to bring to the table in educating the population about their disease and also try to teach them how to treat themselves better and to eat well and to exercise well… as we want to make some inroads into diseases such as diabetes and hypertension,” Dr. Haynes says.
Resident of Maroon Town, St. James, Jennifer Black, who has been benefiting from the health mission for the past 10 years, tells JIS News that she has received “tremendous assistance” and professional health care from the doctors and nurses free of cost.
“Over these years, I have been coming to the health fair and have received top class check-ups and examinations and a lot of medication that surely I could not have been able to afford to purchase at pharmacies. The doctors and the nurses are very kind, they explain to us about our illnesses and how we can take better care of ourselves. I appreciate the health fair all the doctors and nurses that come each year from America to help so many sick and needy people,” Ms. Black says.
“I look forward to the health fair each year,” she adds.
By Glenis Rose, JIS Reporter