The future is wellness

Dr. Christopher Tufton

Gleaner Archive – May 15, 2019

There is need for a paradigm shift in public health, even with the advances of the last half a century that put our life expectancy today at some 78.5 years for females and 73.6 for males.

We want our people to live longer. We also want them to enjoy a better quality of life as they live longer. This requires a change in our approach to public health, which, up to now, has largely been a sort of ‘brick and mortar’ approach, with sick people going to a health facility for treatment by nurses and doctors.

This is not an approach that can be sustained – not with the growing demands on the system, due to, for example, injuries caused by traffic accidents, together with communicable diseases, such as dengue – with which we had a particular challenge this past year – and the impact of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

One in three Jamaicans has hypertension, according to the Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey (2016-2017). One in eight has diabetes. One in two is overweight or obese, a modifiable risk factor for NCDs.

It cannot, therefore, be business as usual. It is against this background that a new strategic direction for public health was outlined for the country, with the tabling in Parliament last Tuesday of the 10-year Strategic Plan for the ministry; a Green Paper on the proposal for a National Health Insurance Plan; and a major Capital Expenditure Plan for the next five years, including an allocation for information systems for health.

It is also in this context that a wellness approach to public health is being pursued. It is one that is in sync with the World Health Organization’s definition of health as not only the absence of disease and infirmity, but a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being.

The key dimensions of the wellness approach include not only the physical, mental, and social, but also the emotional, environmental, financial, intellectual, vocational, and spiritual. Also being trumpeted is the need for personal responsibility in health, as we emphasise prevention.

If we behave recklessly as a people, ‘partying’ our way to the future, as sure as night follows day, it will impact us negatively in terms of our health and the system will be overwhelmed, no matter the infrastructure adjustments that we make.

The focus on wellness, meanwhile, is captured not only in the new name of the Ministry of Health – the Ministry of Health and Wellness – but in our design of a wellness agenda that has as its focus the health and well-being of the whole person.

If we are to make a lasting impact on the lives of Jamaicans, wellness has to be mainstreamed. As such, the next three months are to see the start of the implementation of the following initiatives – all of which form part of a wellness agenda.

1. The Wellness at Work programme to include workplace employee/employer wellness engagement to encourage healthy consumption habits, physical activity and periodic health checks.

2. The Wellness at School programme, which includes the development, in association with the Ministry of Education, of the National School Nutrition Policy that will guide meal preparation for our children.

3. A home-based ‘Wellness Garden’ programme to encourage householder engagement and consumption of fresh, healthy food options at home. This will be done in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture through RADA and the 4-H movement. This year, we will distribute 10,000 of these kits, valued at some J$40 million, to householders.

4. A ‘Better for You’ menu option for restaurants to give consumers choices. This will be done in collaboration with a number of restaurant chains.

5. Encourage and support the promotion of wellness events like outdoor hikes, walks and runs. This is in addition to workout sessions in town centres, in conjunction with local municipalities.

6. Pop-up events across Jamaica to highlight the nutritional content, availability and cost effectiveness of eating locally grown, seasonal produce.

At the same time, the flagship programme, Jamaica Moves, will continue to form the core of our wellness initiative and will be expanded this year to schools and local communities.

The ongoing Compassionate Care programme, which prioritises citizen-focused service, forms another element of the wellness agenda. Among other things, it emphasises customer service and empathy, as well as the promotion of volunteerism in the delivery of care.

Even as we embark on this new strategic direction for public health in Jamaica, we are well aware that it is a big job and not one that can be undertaken by any single individual or entity. Indeed, it requires all our best, collaborative efforts if we are to succeed in giving Jamaicans the high-quality public healthcare to which they are entitled.

We urge the support of all Jamaicans as we chart this new course for a healthy and well Jamaica, empowered to realise its full and sustained development potential.

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