Jamaica Medical Insurance
Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean, located south of Cuba and west of Hispaniola (a small island near Haiti and the Dominican Republic). While only 230 kilometers long and 80 kilometers wide, Jamaica is home to 2.8 million people, of which three-quarters are of African descent. The name Jamaica in its indigenous form, Xaymaca, means “The Land of Wood and Water”.
Known for its beautiful waters and beaches, Jamaica's greatest source of revenue is tourism, responsible for half of the country's GDP, and with tourism-related jobs employing a quarter of the population. Agricultural and mining exports are also a source of revenue for the country. Jamaica's Blue Mountain Coffee is considered as one of the most excellent types of coffee in the world, due to its rich flavor that is a result of the high altitude and cool climate of the Blue Mountains. The mining of bauxite is also essential to the country's success, as it was responsible for 55 percent of Jamaica’s exports in 1999 and accounted for 10.4 percent of the world's production of bauxite. Despite its many exports, Jamaica is not entirely self-sufficient, importing much butter, milk, and cheese, as well as half its fish from the United States of America and Canada.
Although it achieved independence in 1962, and was previously possessed by the Spanish and later became a colony of Britain, Jamaica is currently a commonwealth realm with Queen Elizabeth II as the titular head of state; Jamaica is a parliamentary democracy based off the United Kingdom’s constitutional monarchy. For the most part, Jamaica operates on a two-party democratic system between the People's National Party and the Jamaica Labor Party. The country is split into 14 parishes, which are then divided amongst three counties. Recently, the Jamaican military, known as the Jamaican Defense Force, has started working with the Jamaican police to combat the high crime rate and drug smuggling rings. However, this relationship is not supported by many citizens and has thus suffered from a lack of organization and enforcement.
The climate that enables great profit from tourism and agriculture can seem harsh to visitors, as the average yearly temperature is 82 degrees, but feels even hotter due to the high humidity levels. No shots or vaccinations are required to travel to Jamaica, but visitors should bring water purification tablets to have in the event that bottled water is not readily accessible. It would also be prudent for foreigners to not visit during hurricane season, which lasts from June to November, and is most dangerous from August to October. Most recently, the Category Four hurricane Dean hit Jamaica in August of 2007, causing structural damage and deaths. Besides Jamaica's location on the hurricane belt, visitors should also remain vigilant with regards to the high rates of crime, murder, and rape. The UN believes Jamaica's murder rate is among the highest in the world, and human rights groups have called Jamaica “the most homophobic place on Earth” due to hate speeches, crimes, and mob attacks on members of the LGBT community. Although same-sex activity between women is legal, same-sex activity between men can result in up to ten years of imprisonment. Areas known for high crime rates are Kingston and Montego Bay. Driving is also risky in Jamaica, as although most roads are paved, they have huge pot holes and inadequate traffic signage. Tourists must be ready to be independent when at risk in Jamaica, as the police are understaffed and under-trained, and there have also been reports of corruption. Jamaica does not provide shelter to tourists who may become stranded during their stay on the island, and these tourists will have to rely on their Embassy and insurance for help during this time. Persons with disabilities are also at a disadvantage in Jamaica, as Jamaican law does not require access to public buildings and transportation methods for disabled people. Even popular tourist locations and medical facilities may be inaccessible to disabled visitors. Violence is also prevalent in Jamaica, with demonstrations breaking out anytime, anywhere, often resulting in random shootings. Amnesty International reports that thousands of young girls and women are raped each year in Jamaica, a serious problem that is perpetuated by the lack of consequential action taken by Jamaica's government.
Jamaica also has many health-related issues. In 2008, the infant mortality rate per 1000 live births was listed as 16.7 while the maternal mortality rate was 95 deaths per 100,000 live births. As high numbers of Jamaicans emigrate to more developed countries such as the USA and Canada, the numbers of doctors and nurses on hand working for clinics decrease and are often times not replaced. Jamaica is also trying to manage the 1.5 percent of its population who suffer from HIV/Aids; females in Jamaica are 2.7 times more likely to contract HIV/Aids than the males.
Unfortunately, medical care in Jamaica is quite limited, with extensive medical services only available in Kingston and Montego Bay. No matter where one is in Jamaica (i.e. rural or urban areas), healthcare is unreliable. While public clinics provide better family planning and counseling resources, the private clinics of Jamaica are better equipped with regards to medical supplies and are able to return laboratory tests relatively quickly. Urban clinics are not as structurally sound as their rural counterparts but are better staffed and equipped. However, there are higher-level public clinics that resemble those in the private sector, providing better healthcare than the more basic clinics. Jamaicans prefer the private healthcare facilities over the public healthcare facilities because the public healthcare sector has proven itself especially insufficient, with weak leadership and management leading to inefficiency and disorganization within clinics. Because of the mismanagement of the public healthcare system, many health care standards and related legislation are not consistently monitored and enforced; thus using the public healthcare system can be both hazardous and difficult. Private healthcare facilities are known for the greater levels of professionalism among practitioners, as well as their ability to focus more attention on the patient in a better environment. However, public health care clinics are substantially less expensive than their private counterparts, sometimes even being half the price of private facilities, leading to longer stays and greater occupancy (determined by number of beds used) in public hospitals, due to most Jamaicans being unable to afford paying for private health services out of pocket.
There are about 35 hospitals in Jamaica. The two largest are both located in Kingston; they are the Bustamante Hospital for Children and the University Hospital West Indies. However, there is at least one, and most often, two, smaller hospitals located in each parish. For example, in Manchester Parish, there is the Hargreaves Hospital (private) and Mandeville Hospital (public). Outside of the city of Kingston and the Montego Bay area, prescription drugs, ambulances and other emergency services are limited in both availability and quality. Even in Kingston and Montego Bay, serious medical issues may require evacuation to the United States, costing thousands of dollars along with hospitalization expenses. Many medical facilities and doctors require cash payment upfront, causing problems for foreigners who are unprepared in the event of injury and without insurance. Because of factors such as these, it is advisable for expatriates traveling to Jamaica to take out an international medical insurance policy that provides cover for emergency medical evacuation.
The previously mentioned issues of social unrest lead to many fiscal problems for Jamaica's healthcare system. In a study administered by the Ministry of Health jointly with the World Health Organization in 2007, it was determined that violence-related injuries incur costs of $2.2 billion each year for the Jamaican healthcare system, which accounts for almost half of the hospital budget given by the Ministry of Health. In Kingston Public Hospital's Accident and Emergency unit, one of the emergency doctors, Dr. Hugh Wong, reports that there is at least one gunshot victim a day. As these gunshot victims are admitted to the hospital, they require more attention, time, and resources than other patients. This means other patients are at a severe disadvantage due to less resources and doctors being available for non-violence related ailments, resulting in longer waiting times. Patients can sometimes come to a public hospital in the morning and leave late at night without having been seen by the doctor or treated, as many doctors in public hospitals do not accept appointments. Adding to the issue of high costs, even private hospitals are not always able to accommodate all patients, as there is a very low number of beds for the population. In 1985, it was estimated that the private hospitals only provided 300 beds. However, people with medical insurance are able to get priority and also lower the costs of the pricey medication that may be prescribed.
For expatriates traveling to Jamaica, it is advisable to take out an international health insurance plan before traveling to Jamaica. As international health insurance policies are widely accepted around the world, it means in an emergency an expatriate would have easy access to private health care facilities on Jamaica and would also be covered for the high costs relative to public facilities. Furthermore, in case an expatriate requires serious medical treatment that is unavailable in Jamaican hospitals, expatriates will be covered for expenses relating to medical transportation.
While there is obviously much room for improvement in the public healthcare system, it is unlikely that change will come soon, as improvement/development programs are not readily accepted and the Jamaica's budget and external aid are very low because the country is classified as a “Lower Middle Income country”. Not enough funding goes into improving the healthcare system; for example, in 2009, the Jamaican government budgeted only 2.6% of government expenditure on healthcare and in 2006, only 5.1% of the GDP was expended on healthcare.
While Jamaica is certainly a lovely and desirable travel destination, it is because of issues like limited healthcare services, crime, and insubstantial infrastructure that tourists are highly recommended to have protective medical insurance in the event of anything unexpected and unfortunate happening. For example, while you may be covered by an insurance policy in your home country, it may not cover bills for foreign hospital visits or medical evacuations, and getting another insurance policy may be necessary. No matter your age or country of residency, Pacific Prime can offer free, professional insurance advice as well as international, travel, and health insurance needs with policies that can cover services including, but not limited to, dental, maternity, transportation, inpatient services, and more for your trip to Jamaica. Please contact us today for a free consultation on international health insurance.