JIS News

KINGSTON — She had all the warning signs: a lifeless arm, slurred speech, loss of co-ordination and a severe headache: Cynthia Morant was having a stroke.

“I remember being at home, when I began to lose feelings in my right hand. I also had shortness of breath, so they rushed me to the hospital, where I stayed for about a week,” she relates.

This was five years ago, and for the self employed 54-year- old mother and grandmother the $14,000 medical bill was just too much for her to pay.  However, with the help of family and friends, she managed to clear the bill. 

“Life has really not been easy for me. My five grand kids live right here with me, and it’s real rough, providing for them. I hardly make enough to take care of all of us, so I had to go around and ask my family and friends to help me pay off the hospital bill,” she explains.

Two years later, when Cynthia was re-admitted to the St. Ann’s Bay Hospital with a second stroke, she was spared the distress of paying for the visit. The abolition of the User Fees policy in April 2008 gave her access to medical services free of cost. For Cynthia, this was simply a blessing.

“Nothing felt better to me than knowing that money was not the first thing I had to think about, when I went to the hospital. I felt good knowing that my health came first,” she notes, adding, “Even though some say that the system not working, it works for me because, at least, now I don’t have to contend with no high hospital fees. It helps a lot of poor people, like myself, so we can afford to go to hospital and get proper treatment."

Cynthia’s hospital visits did not end with her stroke in early 2008. In December 2008, she was back in the hospital, after waking up with eyes blood red. This time she was treated for shingles of the eye, at the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH), where she stayed for two weeks. Though not exactly sure of the cost of the procedure, she tells JIS News that the doctor’s response to was, “a good amount”.

“Right now I feel it (eye condition) coming back a little and they say, if the medications don’t work, they will have to operate,” says Miss Morant, who is timid about the surgery, although she will have one less worry this time, and that is the cost of the procedure.

“I really thank God for the free service, because I really would not be able to afford it otherwise. This new health system has been my saving grace,” she confirms. 

Cynthia’s mom, Rosalee, is also a satisfied beneficiary of the free healthcare policy. In December 2010, she was hospitalised with a stroke. She attributes her survival to the selfless service offered by the staff of the St. Ann’s Bay Hospital.

“What I can say is that it is good that persons, especially the poor and needy, can now go to the doctor and not have to deal with worrying about paying the doctor bill,” she states.

Pointing to increased accessibility and improved service delivery under the No User Fee Policy, the Ministry of Health, in a recent advertorial, noted that the policy has increased Jamaicans’ access to health services, saving the “people of Jamaica disposable income amounting to $5.7 billion (which represents fees foregone by the government) over the three years of implementation."

Though trending downwards, health facilities continue to experience high levels of utilisation. Since its implementation in 2008, visits to health centres have increased by 12 per cent, moving from 1,728,570 in 2008/2009 to 1,937,736. 

Pharmacy utilisation also recorded continued growth. Items dispensed at public hospital pharmacies increased by 31.3 per cent from 1,660,502 in 2008/2009 to 2,181,117 in 2009/2010. Pharmaceuticals dispensed at the health centres rose by 66.8 per cent  in the first year of the policy, moving from 516, 985 in 2009-2009 to 862,430 in 2009/2010.

Improving pharmacy services is high on the list of priorities, as the Ministry seeks to resolve the challenges from the implementation of the policy. In the past year, the Ministry has had remarkable success in efforts to find less expensive sources of pharmaceuticals. So far, the Ministry has realised savings of $386 million from these efforts, enabling an increase in procurement of pharmaceuticals and sundry items for the public health sector.

The number of items on the Vital, Essential and Necessary Drugs (VEN) List has also increased from 596 to 738 items.

Over the past three years, the government has succeeded in boosting the renal dialysis programme, to ensure that Jamaicans have increased access to renaldialysis services. The number of renal dialysis units in the public health system increased from 38 in 2007 to 68 in 2011.

Primary Health Care Renewal is a top priority of Government, to ensure broader and continued access for all Jamaicans. Since the implementation of the No User Fee Policy, opening hours have been extended at some health centres. Rehabilitation work has also been completed at over 40 centres island wide, with funding support from the NHF of $300 million.

The Ministry points to the repositioning of health as key to the realisation of Jamaica’s goal under Vision 2030 to be “the place of choice to live, work, raise families, and do business."