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Health Care in Jamaica


Editor’s Note: Missioner Brandon Newland shares the challenges that he’s seen in the health care system in Jamaica and how it has broadened his views in this area. 

A few weeks ago, I woke up and headed to church as usual. When I got there, the guy who opens the church every day told me that Danzies was over at the Seventh Day Adventist Church bleeding badly.

Danzies is a difficult person to engage. He is only 22 years old, has no family, no education, and he survives by begging and stealing children’s bikes. On this occasion, he attempted to steal a bike and was attacked.

I called the number for the ambulance only to find out that there wasn’t one available for the entire city (I later found out the two ambulances that service all of Savannah la Mar were both in auto accidents and being repaired.)

So, I drove over to the SDA church myself and found Danzies with three stab wounds in his back. He was trying to clean himself at the water spigot, but I yelled at him to get into the car so we could go to the hospital.

The nurses took him in right away and cleaned his wounds. When the doctor came in, he said there was a very good chance Danzies would have died if he had not come in.

Jamaica has free health care, but like most countries on the lower end of the economic scale, it leaves a lot to be desired. On my first visit to the hospital, a patient lay dead in the hallway with a blanket over him. I cut my hand in my first month here and sat in the hospital for three hours before giving up and going home.

The hospitals are gravely understaffed, but if you are willing to wait for the care then it is all free, including medicine. However, there is a limited supply of medicine to go around so often people have to go to the private doctors, and this is where our role begins.

We have people come to us every day with prescriptions for medicine. Sometimes, we have people who come up to us with a prescription from three months ago and say they need it to be filled, so we require people to have a prescription dated yesterday or today.

In Danzies case, the system works well. He has no ability to pay and his injuries were bad enough for him to be admitted quickly. But for others with conditions like diabetes, it can be much more dire. Recently­, the hospital workers went on a strike, leaving people who need day to day care seriously threatened. Many people simply don’t have the financial ability to visit the private doctors. In our case, we can only afford to give so much, so we definitely feel empathy for those in precarious physical situations.

My job is constantly evolving as the environment changes in Savannah la Mar. I never know what role I will play tomorrow and unfortunately I may not be able to do it successfully. Until you see or experience health care issues yourself, it is difficult to understand the frustration and hopelessness people feel when they have no ability to heal. But, on an up note, there are countless individuals who are constantly trying to improve health care world-wide and will not rest until we all can live without fear of choice between debt or death.

Reflection Question: How can you be more present to the people in your life who need your help? How can you push past pre-placed judgments and offer assistance to others?

Brandon Newland is very pleased to be joining FMS to help serve communities around the world. He taught English as a second language in Korea for many years before returning to school to pursue his dream of helping the marginalized and impoverished. He has recently received his master's in international studies with a focus on community development, and looks forward to learning more on his journey. Brandon currently serves in Savannah la Mar, Jamaica.