Health tourism could be a viable income-generating option, which, if pursued, could bring substantial numbers of visitors to Jamaica, argues Dr Wykeham McNeill, Minister of Tourism, "Several organisations have shown interest and we are working closely with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Investment, Industry and Commerce to ensure that we put in place a health-tourism policy to grow this area. Jamaica has a clear advantage over many other countries, with natural spas but these need serious investment to reach world-class standards. For medical treatment we have a distinct advantage given our proximity to the USA. The fact that we speak English is certainly an advantage."
This would not be the first time that Jamaica tried to promote health and medical tourism. Last time it failed. MoBay Hope, a private medical centre in Montego Bay, St James, used to offer cosmetic surgery for people from all over the world.
Nichola Francis, of MoBay Hope explains, “"We have not offered that service for the past six years. We still have a very large number of tourist clients, but those are guests at our hotels, who we attend to on an emergency basis." The clinic seems less than enthusiastic about getting involved in a new national health and medical tourism promotion.
Another possible location in Montego Bay is Doctors' Surgi-Clinic .Dr Geoffrey Williams of Doctors' Surgi-Clinic suggests,” Jamaica could emulate the Far East by setting up centres that offer the same range of services. They have put in resources that do not limit them to cosmetic surgery. Taking travel and accommodation into account, the total cost would be between 50 % and 70% of the US cost- although the true medical cost would be 20% of the US price. We already offer cosmetic surgery to visitors from the US, Europe and the Caribbean.”
Jamaica's public-health sector is ailing and creaking with concerns about the level of resources provided by the government, but the private sector is attracting some people from other Caribbean countries and the USA. Patients go from St Lucia, the Cayman Islands, Miami, Atlanta, Chicago, Washington and New York. To maximise the benefits of health tourism, Jamaica would have to improve the infrastructure and safety of the island.
The Hospiten Group recently opened a clinic in the port of Falmouth .The minister for tourism, Edmund Bartlett said,” The clinic guarantees healthcare services for the numerous visitors to the port of Falmouth and is part of the development of Jamaica as a medical tourism destination".
The Ministry of Tourism is conducting a study of the economic impact of the tourism sector, which will be completed soon. The Statistical Institute of Jamaica’s (STATIN) Tourism Satellite Account (TSA is a tool to measure the contribution of the sector; and the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association’s (JHTA) has a study on travel and tourism as a driver of economic development. These studies may help decide if health and medical tourism is a sector that Jamaica should promote.