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Monday 27 January 2020
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The medical uncertainties of being poor and sick in Jamaica


POOR medical care is ubiquitous as studies have shown it is often routed in disparities along racial and ethnic lines. Becoming ill can get extremely dark quickly on these shores.

Poverty remains the main cause in most Caribbean islands, but one’s status woven in ongoing social stratification since colonialism, remains a barrier. This is not an indictment on the local medical system, but a light on a dark issue where others do not have a voice.

Jamaica and by extension the Caribbean has excellent doctors. They have been pivotal in the quality of lives despite an up-hill battle to overcome the challenges in public health.


I look to a case of a boy called Johnny who died recently. After Johnny’s funeral, I looked into his mother eyes, and began to ask a few questions. What happened to him? It is simply not what time he died on a bench waiting for over eight hours to see a doctor, but what was the actual cause of his death?

This un-explainable death represents a common medical “guessing pattern” that causes severe financial, emotional, and physical pains for families.

With little-known surrounding this death, the funeral had to be placed on hold because the doctor was away and the body could not be released to be prepared for burial.

The delay continued because only one pathologist serving several parishes in a country with about three million people. An autopsy can provide critical-clinical finding that the family may use as a history to protect future health. “Was he vomiting before he arrived,” a question asked.

“Johnny complained about his stomach each time he visited the doctor, and this was about the third time in two years”, the family replied. There were no follow-up visits, or call to see if the last prescribed medication helped. Today, the real cause of death still unknown, but the family had to accept what was recorded on the death certificate. He died from “stomach cancer.”

Johnny’s story is not unique, because there are other families who return to check up on loves admitted for treatment, and only to be sent to a morgue after they have been searching for hours. More pathologists are needed and even second opinion would have built confidence and credibility. There are local doctors providing critical education and healthcare tucked away in a plaza, but more collaboration and oversights is needed.



These failures are simply a lack of humans’ rights, patient welfare, and social responsibility as many scholars have noted for a good medical system. Many government health-centres seem to only have limited resources for vulnerable groups. After Johnny was first treated and sent home no one really knows what happen.Johnny could not receive blood, until someone from the family or anyone else gave in advance. This concept is like an eye for an eye, and you are out of luck if no one stand in for your well-being

One argues that people seldom give blood as a volunteer, or become an organ donor and only for a price while others see it as a taboo routed in distrust of the medical system.

Cultural belief and stigma also remain an issue for some; where an erectile dysfunction, chronic chest pain, or an unusual lump on one’s body can be cured from homemade drink, or alternative medicine.

There is still skepticism of government funded medication or contribution from international health organizations. To some it is an experimental drug even as it helps to minimize medical risks.


However, the chance of a person dying on a bench waiting on a doctor for 8 hours is thin. No one also expect countries such as; Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad, Bahamas, Dominica Republic to name a few with economic struggles to operate on the same level in some key areas.

But what this death represent is access to better health care between the haves and the have nots. Doctors and nurses are still making a difference and over worked and maybe underpaid.

Many of whom studied abroad and returned, but the “Brain Drain” effect ‘including nurses continues to play a major role in the emigration of these highly-skilled professionals.

Even well-off politicians have died in the US, Canada or England while seeking treatment. If they invested and trusted their own local medical system often promoted for votes, why would they leave for care when they become sick?

A first-class image with embryonic operation to address medical emergencies in an ever-widen economic inequality gap is problematic. Far too often a funeral band played, food served, but after everyone leaves, families still wants closure. It seems many communities are becoming immune to these issues.

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