Monday, May 14, 2012

Jamaica's healthcare in good hands

Excerpts from May 7 Observer column
by Jean Lowrie-Chin

Dr Aggrey Irons, President, Medical Association of Jamaica

Usain Bolt and parents Mr & Mrs Wellesley Bolt

At a meeting with Dr Aggrey Irons, MAJ (Medical Association of Jamaica) President and eminent psychiatrist, I recalled a conversation I had a couple of years ago with Dr Marco Brown, family doctor for the Bolts. He said that the parents of Usain Bolt would take their active little one for regular check-ups, showing keen interest in their son’s development. Bolt’s manager Norman Peart told me that this parental solicitude continued to the track star’s first set of international tours, when his parents would phone him to get a daily update. “If Usain sneezed, they had to know,” Norman said. Parents, you reap what you sow!

Aggrey remarked that Dr Brown is among those to be honoured at this year’s Jamaica 50 MAJ Banquet. He spoke about Jamaica’s medical achievements and with some nostalgia about Jamaica 50. Aggrey and I had attended Alpha prep together (he was a chronic hair-puller), and in 1962, we had lined up in McAuley Hall to receive a little aluminum cup with a plastic insert proclaiming our Independence.

He said that four years after Independence, the Medical Association of Jamaica was formed, a nationalisation of the local branch of the British Medical Association, which had been in Jamaica since the 19th Century. As we discussed the increasing number of Jamaicans living abroad who had opted to return home for various procedures, Aggrey explained that Jamaican doctors have developed “an excellent reputation for diagnosis and symptomatology” because in the earlier years, they did not have the benefit of the many diagnostic machines available in the developed world.

Dr Knox Hagley

Sir George Alleyne

“This tradition was developed by the excellent teaching methods of such legends as Dr Knox Hagley and Sir George Alleyne at UWI, and it continues,” he said.

Dr Lenworth Jacobs

Prof Herbert Ho Ping Kong

The MAJ President observed that Jamaican doctors have been recognised the world over for their excellence, among them Prof. Lenworth Jacobs in the US and Prof. Herbert Hoo Ping Kong in Canada. A group of UWI doctors last year invented a machine that imitates the beating heart and have been sharing this technology with international colleagues including the Yale faculty of medicine.

“Some of our unsung heroes are our accident and emergency doctors,” he noted. “These are mostly women doctors and they have shown tremendous skill in saving lives in those crucial minutes when injured patients are taken to the various units throughout the island. They move as fast as those ER folks we see on TV, but without the personal dramas.”

Nurses' Assn of Jamaica President Anthonette Patterson and colleagues - the world's finest!

Dr Irons says that with the recent expansion of the medical faculty at UWI and classes being offered in Montego Bay at the Cornwall Regional Hospital, headed by Dr Jeffrey East, health tourism can become a viable industry in Jamaica. This column has been constantly lauding our excellent nurses and Aggrey concurs that we have the world’s finest. He said our pharmacists, radiologists, physiotherapists, lab technicians were also world class and with the upgrading of private hospital facilities, Jamaicans now have excellent options to get quality health care in their own country.

He said the contribution of the National Health Fund (NHF) was ‘not to be discounted’. Our medical fraternity and government have been collaborating to provide treatments ‘that will not break the patient’. He commented on the financial hardships being faced by some Jamaicans who had opted to get treated abroad, unaware that practically the same care was available here.

Jamaica’s medical history is deep. “We in Jamaica had the very first international branch of the British Medical Association,” said Aggrey. He explained that the first medical school at UWI had started out as a college of the University of London. “Continuing education is mandatory - Jamaican doctors must complete in excess of 20 hours on Continuing Medical Education (CME) in order to renew their annual registration with the Medical Council of Jamaica,” he pointed out.

He said that the statistics from the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) on life expectancy, infant mortality and immunization show that Jamaica’s health status “is up there with the best in the world.” Very reassuring for those of us who plan to live out our days on this ‘island in the sun’!

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