Tufton bullish on health insurance plan for Jamaica
Says epidemic of NCDs the 'clear and present danger'Friday, July 23, 2021
BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS
WITH the green paper on a National Health Insurance Plan for Jamaica having to take a back seat because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton says the issue of sustainable health-care financing cannot be ignored for long, pointing to the epidemic of non-communicable diseases (NCD) that has continued unabated.
“COVID-19 has claimed just over four million lives globally. The NCD challenge that we face claims some 41 million people annually, so when you place the challenges in context, one life is one too many, but clearly it gives an indication of the challenge that we face as it relates to NCDs globally,” Dr Tufton said on Wednesday.
He was delivering the main address during day one of the three-day NCD programme review and conference, which also featured the launch of the ministry's NCDs website and awards ceremony.
“Seventy-one per cent of deaths globally is the statistic, and in Jamaica we are in the region of about 70 per cent of our own deaths. So the focus, the priority, the thrust, the reason for being here is impatient of any debate or difference of opinion, it [NCD] is the clear and present danger and it is ongoing. It is not going to be cured by any vaccine and it has to be tackled by all of society,” said Dr Tufton.
The health and wellness minister said that given the underlying realities, Jamaica has to find solutions to tackle NCDs, even whilst managing the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“Sometime ago we tabled a green paper on health-care insurance, we haven't done much on it because COVID took over and there was a lot of advocacy that was required to convince all concerned, including the Government, that we needed to invest more heavily in sustainable financing. The truth is, all of what we do, it is going to be frustrating if we don't have sustainable financing to support those programmes; and I see this as a clear and present danger to the future dispensation of public health,” Dr Tufton said on Wednesday.
“One only has to dig below the surface to recognise the gaps between need and our capacity to afford, and it is something that not only Jamaica has to take on, but the world has to take that on,” he added.
Dr Tufton said this concern was the basis for his proposal for a health-care financing options conference later this year.
“I have asked my team in my office to put together a committee that will begin to plan, that will draw on expertise not only from Jamaica but around the world, to look at what the future should look like as it relates to affordability because costs are getting very high and there are already significant gaps that we need to overcome. The COVID-19 experience has amply demonstrated that we must take measures to tackle the crisis of NCDs,” he added.
Dr Tufton said he has, since his short time in office, tried “to, as much as possible, make the link between the NCD epidemic and the way society functions in its totality”.
“Because, while public health has a leading role to drive the response for anything health-related, the reality is, if you assess in-depth the lifestyle disease challenges that we face, one has to conclude that no single stakeholder group within the society can solve the challenge.
“I have long concluded that if we do not combine the behavioural sciences with the clinical sciences and create a series of responses that captures those critical disciplines, then we are going to be suboptimal in terms of the response to NCDs,” he pointed out.
In charging the health professionals present, he said: “My first reminder to this body is that we must combine behavioural sciences with clinical sciences and embrace and endorse those who may not see issues in purely clinical terms but understand human behaviour and out of that will come recommendations that are more optimal in terms of addressing the challenges of COVID.”
The National Health Insurance Plan (NHIP) Green Paper, which was tabled in Parliament in 2019, is expected to lead to a final proposal aimed at providing appropriate levels of access, coverage, and financial protection to the population. A team led by Dr Wesley Hughes was to have led a process of public consultation on the green paper.
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