Within his first 100 days in office, Health Minister, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson, signalled his intention to pursue institutional and legislative strengthening of the country’s public health system, by engaging in a number of activities.
In January, the Ministry handed over six vehicles, valued approximately $12 million to the four regional authorities, as part of efforts to enhance the Vector Control Programme. Dr. Ferguson advised that the units would facilitate the movement of officers when conducting fogging exercises islandwide.
Two of the units were handed over to the Southern Regional Health Authority, and one each to the South East, North East and Western Regional Health Authorities. The sixth unit was retained at the Ministry to facilitate immediate interventions, where such a need arises, the Minister informed.
Meanwhile, there was welcomed news from the Minister in February when he announced that the requisite parts needed to repair the cobalt machine at the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) and further enhance the output of a similar unit at the Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH) in Montego Bay, had been received.
Dr. Ferguson told journalists that the parts had been sourced and brought into the island at the end January, thereby enabling the requisite works to be carried out. The units are used to administer radiotherapy to cancer patients.
As regards personnel, the cadre of medical professionals serving the sector was further boosted, following the signing of a two-year Technical Services Agreement between the Ministry, and their Cuban counterpart, in January.
Under the Agreement, signed by Dr. Ferguson, and Cuban Ambassador to Jamaica, His Excellency Yuri Gala Lopez, Cuba will provide an additional 499 health professionals over a two-year period. These include: doctors, nurses, nursing tutors, physiotherapists, cytotechnologists, dieticians, and medical technologists.
Just under 100 nurses and 20 doctors are expected in the island during the first year of the agreement, and will be deployed to primary and secondary health care facilities islandwide. They will complement just over 200 locally trained nurses, who were deployed to institutions in the South East Regional Health Authority in February.
In other matters, Dr, Ferguson announced that the administration had drafted a policy relating to gifts and donations, in a bid to enhance the mobilisation of resources for the health sector, particularly from charitable organisations.
The policy, he outlined, aimed to ensure an effective system of accepting, documenting and distributing all resources mobilised for the health sector; and to improve the framework within which donors operate and relate to the Ministry.
Meanwhile, Dr. Ferguson announced that the Ministry is in the process of finalising preparations to secure Cabinet approval to draft a Tobacco Control Act that will provide sweeping protection against unwanted tobacco exposure.
Other areas of focus, which Dr. Ferguson said the Ministry will be pursuing, include: the introduction of a Government of Jamaica health card, to help in improving the delivery of health care services; establishment of centres of excellence in the island’s regional hospitals, to improve health care; boosting the capacity of the National Public Health Laboratory; construction of a children’s hospital in western Jamaica; and reviewing the impact of the no user fee policy in areas deemed critical to primary health care delivery.
The Minister assured that while there are plans to introduce a new policy of universal health care and primary facilities, the administration had no intention to deny access to vulnerable patients at the secondary and tertiary levels.
“Let me make it clear that the government has no intention of denying access to high risk and vulnerable patients, such as our children, the disabled, and our senior citizens,” Dr. Ferguson said, stressing that “those who can pay, must pay."