Feature
Minister of Health, Dr. the Hon. Christopher Tufton (third left), and Acting Director of Health Services, Planning and Integration in the Ministry, Dr. Simone Spence (second left), participate in an exercise session at a recent Workplace Health and Wellness Symposium held at the Spanish Court Hotel in New Kingston.
Photo: Yhomo Hutchinson

Several public-sector entities have responded to the call from Minister of Health, Dr. the Hon. Christopher Tufton, to institute workplace wellness programmes, as part of the national effort to combat non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

The Minister has issued an appeal for heads of agencies to assign officers to coordinate the wellness efforts, which include ensuring that employees have access to healthier meal options.

“So, your entity will be positioned as not only one that wants to get the value that is exchanged for the salary that you pay each month, but as caring for the long-term wellness and well-being of your staff. It is a great feeling when staff members feel that way,” he notes.

Dr. Tufton says that every workplace can take steps to create an environment that encourages employees to adopt a healthy lifestyle, by ensuring that water is easily accessible throughout the day, providing healthy food, as well as making educational material readily available.

At the National Works Agency (NWA), where the ‘NWA Wellness Move’ is under way, various activities have been organised to benefit staff at the entity’s Corporate Area and regional offices.

These include office workouts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; fruit and vegetable days; and healthier meals in the canteens; and an area has been established for nursing mothers.

The NWA wellness programme involves support from the Ministry of Health, the Heart Foundation of Jamaica, and other entities.

Manager for Personnel and Industrial Relations, David Knight, tells JIS News that the staff have welcomed the initiative, which has the full support of the agency’s Chief Executive Officer, E.G. Hunter.

“We have persons expressing surprise and delight to recognise that there are these simple and easy ways in which we can do things to improve and impact our health positively,” he tells JIS News.

Public-sector workers do stretching exercises at a recent Workplace Health and Wellness Symposium held at the Spanish Court Hotel in New Kingston.

Meanwhile, at the Ministry of Justice, efforts are under way to open a gym and an aftercare facility as part of a wellness programme.

Senior Director for Corporate Affairs, Sandra Graham, says Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Carol Palmer, has taken a keen interest in the initiative, and is ensuring that it is fast-tracked.

She notes that a key component of the programme is a quarterly fair, which will focus on education, money management, and healthcare.

“We intend to engage the Ministry of Health in assisting us with building awareness of proper nutrition and all the other necessary things for a healthy well-being,” she tells JIS News.

Director of Health Promotion and Education at the Ministry, Takese Foga, says it is important for workplaces to invest in programmes that enhance and promote workers’ health in order to reduce injuries and illness and control NCDs.

“As we invest in workplace wellness we will see a difference in the productivity of our entities and have better interpersonal relations,” she points out.

According to the Ministry of Health, NCDs are the prime contributors to morbidity in Jamaica, with the four main behavioural risk factors being tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diet, and physical inactivity.

It is estimated that treating people with NCDs and related illnesses could cost the country some US$17 billion over the next 15 years.

A comprehensive wellness programme, including regular physical activity, is one of the most cost-effective measures that workplaces can put in place to aid in the reduction of the NCD burden, the Ministry says.

World Health Organization (WHO) statistics indicate that physical activity programmes for staff lower short-term sick leave by 32 per cent, reduces the cost of healthcare by 55 per cent and improves productivity by 52 per cent.

“A company that provides the resources and programmes that promote increased physical activity will enable its staff to live healthier and longer. Investing in employees’ health will help increase the company wealth,” the Ministry notes.

The Ministry recommends that a successful physical activity workplace programme must be guided by a committee comprised of persons with specific roles, and includes representatives from various departments.

The Ministry will provide expertise to assist the process.