The New Jersey-based Help Jamaica Medical Mission has been providing free, quality, health care across the island for the past 16 years, reaching thousands of needy Jamaicans.
For two weeks each year, the mostly Jamaican-born doctors and other health professionals, close their practices or take vacations, and fly to the island, to serve their home country through free health fairs.
Head of the Mission, Dr. Rudolph Willis, who hails from the parish of St. Mary, shares with JIS News that the mission, which started in 1998 with 15 members, now comprises more than one thousand physicians, surgeons, nurses and other volunteers, who are touching the lives of the less fortunate in the island.
“Coming here, we pay our fare, we help to buy the medication, we close our offices…to come here and help year after year. We are going to help until we can’t help anymore,” he says, noting that the mission has a stated objective of “serving the poorest through medical and surgical procedures.”
Dr. Willis, who was taking a break from seeing patients at a health fair at the Oak Glades Health Centre, South St. Andrew, during the annual mission in September, informs that various activities are held to raise funds for the visits.
“We have four different kinds of fundraisers to gain funds – a raffle, boat rides in June, a backyard bash, and a black tie dinner every November,” he informs.
Vice President of the mission, Dr. Robert Clarke, who spoke with JIS News after attending to more than one thousand patients at the Newlands Seventh Day Adventist Church in Portmore, St. Catherine, credits Prime Minister, the Most. Hon. Portia Simpson Miller, as the inspiration for the annual mission to Jamaica.
He explains that the group, at the time of its inception, was called the Caribbean Health Mission, with a focus on the wider region, which meant that they could only make visits to Jamaica every seven years.
He informs that in 2005, while serving as Minister of Labour and Social Security, Mrs. Simpson Miller, during a visit to the United States, met with members of the group, who were seeking to enhance their service to Jamaica.
“We asked her what we can do to help our country, and she came up with the brilliant idea that since we are physicians and health care personnel, we could give back to the health care system in Jamaica,” Dr. Clarke informs.
“Since we are mostly Jamaicans, we wanted to make sure that we come to Jamaica every year,” he adds.
At one of the organization’s black tie fundraising dinners two years ago, the Prime Minister lauded the work of the mission, noting that the medical team is a “true friend and valuable partner in (assisting) those who are less fortunate.”
She added that their involvement in Jamaica “speaks more to the lasting relationships developed among people, who share a caring compassion for those who are less fortunate.”
During the health fairs, the team of medical and health personnel, provides dental and eye examinations, medical tests for chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertensions. They provide free eye glasses, medication, and counselling, and where required, make referrals to the public health system for follow-up attention.
“By doing that, we might prevent catastrophic events from happening, such as strokes,” Dr. Clarke says.
He notes that medical professionals in Jamaica are “very good and talented,” but says that due to different constraints “they can’t get to everybody, so, we are trying to see the ones that refuse to go (to health facilities), or cannot go.”
He tells JIS News the doctors are committed to sustaining the work of the mission, noting that it brings a sense of fulfillment.
“We have very strong passion for our country, and we would definitely love to know that we would have left our footprints…in helping. If we save only one life by diagnosing one case of hypertension, and one uncontrollable diabetes, then it would have been worth it,” Dr. Clarke reasons.
State Minister for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, and Member of Parliament for East Central St. Catherine, Hon. Arnaldo Brown, whose constituents have benefitted from the mission, is also hailing their invaluable contribution.
“This is a major initiative and we have to express gratitude to the medical mission. They are highly motivated, and the majority of them are Jamaican, by birth, and that is part of the connection that they have to the country,” Mr. Brown points out.
Sonia James, who was among persons at the Oak Glades health fair, says she was pleased with the care received.
She tells JIS News that she would want to visit with the doctors even if she is not sick, as their words of comfort along with the medication provided helped with her ailment.
“I am happy, because they came and helped the people in the community,” she says.