Jamaica is well known throughout the Caribbean for its beauty and for its tropical serenity. As a tourist location, its beaches and landscape offer vast visual pleasure. Violence, however, creates a strong undercurrent and is unfortunately, a common way of life for adults and for children alike.

Tourism comprises a considerable portion of the economy. Wealth disparity is significant in that the wealthy are able to employ needed armed guards while the poor have limited food, clean water, and access to health care. Unemployment remains at approximately 10%. Because Jamaica is dependent on imports of food, clothing, and many other products, these items are expensive. For many people, more than half their income can be spent just on food alone. The average worker may make only about $25/day (in international dollars).

Access to health care and medical treatment is problematic and preventive care is not a priority. Often medical problems go unaddressed until advanced stages are reached. Since many Jamaicans make barely enough money to meet their daily needs, most people do not have insurance and cannot afford medical care with a private physician.

Although health care has recently been made free by the new government, the Jamaica Labor Party, Jamaica is a country of moderate poverty and resources are lacking. Thus basic preventative health care such as pap smears and mammograms are often not performed. Furthermore, medications for serious medical illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension are often not available due to lack of resources. The physicians working for the public health system are over-burdened by the number of patients and lack of resources. Simply, there are not enough health care providers for the number of patients.

The educational system is based upon the British model. Illiteracy rates are over 10%. Again, poverty as a standing problem hampers the education of children and the continuing education of adults. Advancement from primary to secondary education is based upon the performance of a national exam. Increasingly, attendance and access to the upper educational levels is prevented by the inability to provide basic food for the household. Books, uniforms, and supplies are needed, but, cannot be provided because of more emergent and daily needs.

MIA partners with the Franciscan Ministries and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Kingston, Jamaica. Our team is mobile. We travel to various parts of the inner city in Kingston and see patients in make-shift clinics. We have also partnered with Port Maria Hospital and in rural St. Mary, we also see many patients in remote areas who have very little access to health care. Many women on the island have never had a pap smear screen for cervical cancer or a mammogram. Some of our patients who live in these remote areas do not have the money to afford the bus to get to the doctor. MIA volunteers travel to these remote areas to treat these patients.

MIA volunteers also have the opportunity to visit the STEP Center (School for Therapy, Education and Parenting). This is a one of a kind school on the island for children with multiple disabilities. Children at the school receive individualized care from the staff, but the school is in great need of funding so that it may expand and improve its services. MIA volunteers may also choose to spend their volunteer time at the school rather than going to the various clinics or assisting in surgery. For more information about the STEP center, you may visit their website at www.thestepcentre.com.

Download this useful guide for mission trips

If you are interested in volunteering in Jamaica, please contact us atinfo@medicineinaction.org.