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JIS News

For persons who have difficulty coping with the high cost of private medical care in Jamaica, one of the options available outside the public health institutions, is the Foundation for International Self Help Development (FISH), which offers some services at an affordable cost.
The clinic, located along Gordon Town Road in St. Andrew, not only serves the surrounding communities, including Papine, but other patients throughout Jamaica.
Since its birth in 1985, one of the objectives has been to provide health care to persons who cannot afford private medical care. This was made possible through the many volunteers, both locally and overseas, who offered their services in various areas.The clinic started its early days of operation out of a JOS bus on a plot of rented property. Today the clinic consists of sprawling buildings, some of which were recently built, and offers a variety of services, with eye care being its main specialty.David Wilson, Executive Director of FISH, tells JIS News that the initial objectives of the clinic have not changed. However, he points out that with the decline in volunteers, the clinic has been forced to charge a bit more for its services.
“We now have more modern buildings, much more patient friendly surroundings and the only thing that has changed significantly is that we do not have as many volunteers as in the past,” he says. Mr. Wilson points out that with the main focus being on eye care, more than 50 per cent of the patients are treated in that category. The other patients utilize the other services, which include the medical laboratory, dental laboratory, pharmacy and the pre and postnatal clinic.
He explains that the clinic tries to keep the cost as low as possible, especially for eye care, even though they have to purchase supplies at the same cost as other institutions.
“I can’t tell you that we are breaking even, because we are not, but we still try to help all persons who come to the clinic, even if they have no money at all,” he adds.
Mr. Wilson notes that the economic constraints, among other things, have prevented volunteers from giving as much time as they can. However, he points out that there are still persons who have been faithful to the programme over the years.
One such group is a team from the University of Waterloo in Canada, whose members have been visiting the island for the last 10 years. “Other than that group, there are very few persons coming to volunteer at the clinic. We have the odd nurse or maybe a doctor or dentist, such as a Jamaican dentist from Toronto, who come and volunteer their services,” he says.
When JIS News visited the clinic recently, volunteers from the University of Waterloo had arrived in the island to serve. Mr. Wilson explains that the team members, including a Professor and a group of optometry students, will conduct outreach programmes at clinics, churches and in communities, where they screen persons for eye care, free of cost.
“Each time they come, they see persons not only in the Corporate Area, but they also go to the rural areas such as Portland, St. Thomas, St. Mary and Montego Bay as we try to schedule them to go to areas around Jamaica,” Mr. Wilson informs, adding that they screen persons and examine for eye care, following which persons are referred to the resident ophthalmologist at the clinic.
He informs that the students have actually completed the optometry course, but have not yet been granted a licence to practise in Canada.
Mr. Wilson points out that between 35,000 and 40,000 patients visit the clinic each year, and that a recent survey indicated that as much as 70 per cent of those who utilize the services at the clinic are repeat patients. “Someone did a study here and we found out that these patients come here for a variety of reasons, such as the cost, the quality of care and the way they are treated when they come to the clinic,” he tells JIS News.
As such, he says they are constantly improving the services and the facilities. “For persons who can’t afford expensive care, they can still be treated just as good or even better than what they will get outside,” he says.
Although the clinic has received some state-of-the-art equipment, Mr. Wilson says the facility is still in need of newer equipment. Currently, he says, they are trying to improve the processing section for eye care, where they will actually make the glasses they sell.
For now, only minor eye surgeries are conducted at the clinic, but this is expected to change soon. Mr. Wilson says there are plans to set up a cataract theatre at the clinic, which will be funded by the Caribbean Council for the Blind and Sight Savers International.
“They are going to purchase equipment to equip the operating theatre and we will be able to do cataract surgeries there in a very short period,” he says, adding that they will still keep the cost as low as possible.
“We already have the microscope, which is new,” Mr. Wilson points out.
This should be good news for the many cataract patients who have been waiting for some time to have an operation done. “There are quite a few patients who come for cataract operations, because there is a backlog of these patients who we have not been able to see, and of course they can’t afford the operation elsewhere,” he explains, adding that these operations will be done at a lower cost than what it is being charged in private institutions.
Another project that FISH is involved in, is its Baby Care programme. As an agent of the Ministry of Health, they operate a pre and postnatal clinic as well as immunize children. “We are trying to relieve the burden from some of the hospitals, because the hospitals have enough, with all the trauma and casualties and emergencies that they have to deal with,” he notes.
FISH also operates a pharmacy, which Mr. Wilson says, offers medication at an affordable cost.