JIS News

Story Highlights

  • As the Heart Foundation of Jamaica (HFJ) embarks on another month of increased awareness for the prevention of heart diseases, it is lauding the National Health Fund (NHF) for preserving the health of Jamaicans.
  • Each year the HFJ observes February as Heart Month, when it stages exhibitions and other outreach activities across the island to promote healthy hearts.
  • Executive Director of the Foundation, Deborah Chen, tells JIS News that the NHF’s subsidies on medications for chronic illnesses have been of tremendous benefit to the population.

As the Heart Foundation of Jamaica (HFJ) embarks on another month of increased awareness for the prevention of heart diseases, it is lauding the National Health Fund (NHF) for preserving the health of Jamaicans.

Each year the HFJ observes February as Heart Month, when it stages exhibitions and other outreach activities across the island to promote healthy hearts.

Executive Director of the Foundation, Deborah Chen, tells JIS News that the NHF’s subsidies on medications for chronic illnesses have been of tremendous benefit to the population.

“Our nonprofit pharmacy at the Heart Foundation, which has cheaper prices,  offers all the products that the National Health Fund stocks, and people are able to use their cards here and get much cheaper prices than they would in a private establishment,” Mrs. Chen points out.

“We also work with them with the islandwide screening programme. The NHF has excellent screening, offering free clinics, and we accompany them on these visits to conduct screening tests for heart disease. The National Health Fund is an excellent organization, and we are pleased to be partnering with them as we try to reduce heart disease in Jamaica,” she adds.

The Executive Director says the NHF health card, which can be used to access cheaper drugs for some 15 chronic illnesses, is a lifesaver, and the “NHF means a lot to the average person, because of the great discount that you can get on medications.”

“Our patients are able to comply with the doctor’s prescription a lot more, because they have access to a National Health Fund card,” she tells JIS News.

Mrs. Chen says Hearth Month serves as a constant reminder of the need for a healthy lifestyle, and this year there is a focus on nutrition, as healthy eating is a great preserver of proper functioning of the heart, and general wellbeing.

“We choose this occasion to bring to everybody’s attention what it means to live a healthy lifestyle, and what the implications are for the heart if they don’t. We focus on different aspects. This year we are on healthy nutrition. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Jamaica, so it is of great national importance,” she notes.

Stressing that unhealthy eating has a “great impact on heart disease,” Mrs. Chen says the month-long activities will be seeking to reinforce the message of what constitutes healthy diets. “If we don’t eat correctly, it affects our bodies, which ultimately contributes to having a heart attack, or a stroke, and other chronic diseases.”

On February 13, personnel from the Foundation will be at several plazas in the Corporate Area offering healthy heart services to the public. In addition, they will be at scores of health centres across the island promoting healthy lifestyles. Screening will be ongoing at their 28 Beechwood Avenue headquarters, in St. Andrew.

Minister of Health, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson, says the HFJ, which came into existence in 1971 by the Lions Club of Kingston, while offering vital services to the public, has also been strident on several health issues, especially the recent passage of the Public Health (Tobacco Control) Act, which prohibits smoking in certain public spaces.

He outlines the services offered by the Foundation, particularly in the “prevention of cardiovascular diseases through education, early detection through screening programmes and rehabilitation through the promotion of healthy lifestyles.”

A 2013 survey by the Foundation showed that 35 per cent of the persons that they screened for high blood pressure were pre-hypertensive, while 42 per cent  were found to have Stage 2 hypertension. Of the number, 45 per cent were not aware of their condition. High blood pressure is termed the ‘silent killer’, and is one of the leading risk factors for heart disease.

Nutritionist with the Foundation, Frances Mahfood, says science has proven that lifestyle is important to prevent and limit the risks of many chronic diseases.

“A lot of these diseases can be prevented; we have to recognize that foods are medicine. Taking too much salt, too much fat, and loads amount of sugar is not good for us. We need to start becoming planners of our meals, using local fruits and vegetables,” she urges.

“It has been proven that a daily diet that consists of fruits and vegetables protects us against diseases. Persons who eat an average of five to eight servings reduce their risk of heart disease by 2 per cent,” Mrs. Mahfood adds.

She recommends that children should be taught about healthy foods from an early age, and given baked meats over fried foods.

The Foundation Schools’ Health Education Promotion Programme, which targets children, is in operation at Shortwood Practising, Alpha Primary, Alpha Infant, Dunrobin Primary, Waterford High, Excelsior Primary and Meadowbrook High Schools. Staff members from the Foundation visit the Healthy Heart Club meetings regularly and involve the students in sports and health education.

Vice Principal at Alpha Primary School, Marjorie Kerr Black, informs that the Healthy Heart Club at the institution is one of the largest groups, and  has helped in preventing children from being obese, and also provides motivation for physical activity at the school.

“Every Thursday after lunch the children look forward to the club. They come and remind us that it is club time,” she says.

The Foundation gets financing mainly from corporate sponsorship and fund-raising events. It offers training to medical as well as non-medical persons, including the Heartsaver First Aid Course.

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