USC Project Jamaica: Day VI

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Today marked the last service-learning day of our trip. Our flight would be in the early afternoon tomorrow, so the only thing we had planned was to go to a family friend’s house for a traditional Jamaica breakfast and head to the airport. I thought it was a well-deserved ending, as we had to wake up at 5 AM this morning to leave for Kingston at 6 AM.

The trip to Kingston from Montego Bay was roughly 3 and a half hours. We drove through the heart of Jamaica to get to our destination. It was pouring hard and the roads were windy. At times, we feared for our lives. I wondered how Jamaicans maneuvered on such narrow highways with curves and turns throughout. I hoped we wouldn’t be additional statistics to Dr. Fray’s “unnecessary trauma cases” and understood how easily car accidents could happen.

Dr. Sanchez, one of my professors for Global Medicine, used to say how engineers could often save more lives than doctors. And I could see this to be true, with respect to Jamaica’s roads. If engineers could could simply design safe roads and work with the government to enforce street lights, stop signs, and speed limits, it would make a world of a difference. But unfortunately, even if the roads were paved, many were too narrow for comfort. And there were sparse traffic lights, mainly in bigger cities like Kingston or Montego Bay. There were signs on roads promoting seatbelt use, but they were never enforced. And I don’t think I saw a single crosswalk while in Jamaica.

Our first stop in Kingston was at the University of Technology. We had the honor of meeting faculty from the Pharmacy School, including the Dean herself. We spent an hour speaking with the faculty, asking about the pharmacy program. The University of Technology is in the process of constructing a Doctor of Pharmacy program, so our pharmacy students got a chance to explain their curriculum to give the professors and administrators an idea of what to offer in their program. Then, we got a tour of the pharmacy lecture hall and lab.

Next, we then headed to the University of West Indies, which houses one of the few medical schools on the island. We drove to their hospital and met with the pharmacy staff there. Their pharmacy was quite impressive, with a spacious waiting room and a very organized stockroom with medications.

After speaking with some pharmacy students on the campus, we then headed to the Ministry of Health. We spoke with the Regulations Department, which is the equivalent to America’s FDA. They were all friendly and told us about their typical tasks. Many were pharmacists. Because most drugs authorized in Jamaica are produced abroad, their task is to screen each drug before it enters the Jamaican market.

What impressed me the most about the Ministry of Health was the emphasis it placed on HIV/AIDS awareness. There were posters all over and several pamphlets targeted to teens about HIV and AIDS. We each grabbed a few and read on them while we were in our van. Each pamphlet was a different fictitious narrative about young people, sex, and AIDS. We thought this was an effective way to communicate to this demographic and wished we had them to pass out the day before at our visit to Granville.

After our tour through the sites in Kingston, we headed back to Montego Bay for our last reflection. During our reflection, we drew connections between healthcare in Jamaica and the ongoing campaign for healthcare reform in the US. Several people expressed interest in coming back and refining our trip. As a pilot trip for USC Project Jamaica, we learned a lot with respect to planning and preparing for the trip. In addition, everyone offered suggestions for the trip, if we continue next year. A few suggestions that stuck out to me were to collaborate with the USC dental students and medical students. We had initially opened the invitation to Keck’s chapter of the Student National Medical Association, but later learned that medical school finals would still be going on after our flight was scheduled to leave. With a year’s worth of planning and many lessons learned, we’ll be sure to confirm the finals schedule of all of the different programs at USC before purchasing tickets for our future trips.

Aubrey, one of the pharmacy students, leads a diabetes awareness campaign in LA. He suggested that we add a diabetes and hypertension screening component to the trip, since this initiative wouldn’t require much equipment. I loved his idea because we know that the cases of diabetes and hypertension are growing within the adult demographic in Jamaica. Aubrey recommended that we write to OneTouch, which is a pharmaceutical company that makes glucometers. They’ve donated to Aubrey’s outreach program and we hope they’d be willing to partner with us in Jamaica.

All in all, I’m very thankful that we were able to hold this trip. It couldn’t have happened without the support of the Global Institute for Health and other sponsors. We learned so much about healthcare in a developing nation, health education campaigns, and the need for collaboration from different sectors to meet the variety of needs Jamaica presents. Thank you all for keeping up with the blog. I hope to learn more about global health during my time at USC and look forward to seeing where USC Project Jamaica goes in the future.