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KINGSTON — Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Jean Dixon, has underscored the importance of having an effective and robust information system that will support the management of health service delivery in Jamaica.

Speaking at the opening of a three-day National Health Information System assessment workshop today (July 26) at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, New Kingston, she argued that, against the background of healthcare delivery being a business, there is a need to keep track of developments such as health threats that could impact the country.

"We need to be able to map the disease profile of the country and to see where changes are emerging. We must understand the cost to deliver health services; we have to make appropriate plans to satisfy the manpower needs. The delivery of healthcare is dependent, to a great extent, on human beings and an important element, of course, is to be able to deploy our resources," the Permanent Secretary outlined.

She lamented the state of the health sector's information system, which she described as "fragmented" and unable to integrate data from various interests in order to inform "pragmatic decisions".

The Ministry is working to address the situation, Dr. Dixon informed, noting that an alternative system has been looked at, with a health information and technologies steering committee established and meetings commenced.

In addition, Health Minister, Hon. Rudyard Spencer led a delegation to Washington, D.C. last October for a meeting with the Pan American Health Organization's (PAHO) Director, Dr. Mirta Roses Periago, to discuss areas of the sector for assistance, including the information system.

She informed that several meetings with PAHO officials were subsequently held, which led to, among other things, organisation of the three-day workshop, now underway.

The Permanent Secretary noted that the forum was timely, particularly in light of the health targets outlined in the country's National Development Plan – Vision 2030 Jamaica, noting that "we have some obligations to fulfill, in this regard".

Regarding the creation of a more effective information system for the health sector, Dr. Dixon stressed the need to "identify milestones," adding that "we can't sit and wait for a plan that is going to unfold with some pizzazz in 2030; we have work to do between now and then".

She contended that designing such a system required assessments of what obtains, recognising the shortfalls, and moving to rectify same.

"The users must be comfortable with it. It must be useful; it must be user-friendly. It must give information on each element of our operations, including areas such as human resources and finance. This is how this system is going to (have to) work for us to be able to make timely decisions, (and) make decisions that are useful in supporting us to deliver quality healthcare in Jamaica," she asserted.

More than 20 health sector stakeholders are attending the three-day workshop, being jointly staged by the Ministry and PAHO. The forum continues on Wednesday (July 27) and culminates on Friday (July 29).

The assessment workshop is the first recommended step towards strengthening Jamaica's health information system, as it provides a roadmap for the development of a national strategic plan through a consultative process involving multiple stakeholders.       

By Douglas McIntosh, JIS Reporter