Washington, D.C., 20 July 2012 (PAHO/WHO) — Today during his visit to the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) Headquarters, the Minister of Health of Jamaica, Dr. Fenton Ferguson, presented the main health priorities for Jamaica, which include a revamping of the primary health care system, the use of electronic health cards, as well as renewed focus on HIV/AIDS, maternal health and non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

PAHO/WHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses Periago welcomed him and other distinguished guests to the Organization and explained that the meetings would be an opportunity to analyze how PAHO/WHO can continue to provide support in health to Jamaica.

Following the presentation, Minister Ferguson, accompanied by Permanent Secretary Dr. Jean Dixon and PAHO/WHO Representative in Jamaica Ms. Margareta Skold, met with PAHO/WHO experts to discuss areas of public health concern and explore the country's technical cooperation priorities. Some topics included the renewal of the primary health care system, the structure and working mechanism of the Strategic Fund for the purchase of antiretrovirals, and tobacco control legislation.

Dr. Ferguson said, "The government is pursuing policy initiatives that will ensure the efficient and effective renewal of primary health care." The ministry of health of Jamaica has committed to invest efforts in providing accessible and affordable health care supported by the appropriate technologies and the innovative provision of services. The Minister emphasized that implementation of an electronic health card is one of the country's immediate needs for technical cooperation.

Representative Dr. Skold said, "If we can strengthen primary health care, we can make sure that we give comprehensive attention to health issues such as HIV/AIDS, maternal health and NCDs." In addressing these public health challenges, the Minister said that "when taking on a fight we must approach it strategically."

The Caribbean is the second region in the world with the highest burden of HIV/AIDS. For years, Jamaica has been investing efforts to address the epidemic. Dr. Ferguson said that amongst the highest prevalence groups in the country are females, ages 15-24, which is a group of particular concern when addressing maternal health and mother-to-child transmission of HIV. The need for a comprehensive and integrated approach is ever more evident as "this same group, females 15-24, is also of great concern in matters of tobacco use," explained the Minister.

Jamaica played a key role in placing NCDs in the regional and global agendas during the United Nations High Level Meeting. Only months after the meeting, the country has already started to develop a Strategic Plan on NCDs. PAHO/WHO experts have supported Jamaica in the drafting of the Plan and will continue to provide technical cooperation to ensure that the country meets the 2025 targets set to reduce NCDs.

Jamaica's award-winning vaccination program is also among the country's achievements in health. Ms. Skold said, "Jamaica recently received a prize at the Caribbean EPI Managers' Meeting for having attained amongst the highest vaccination coverage in the region."

As the meeting came to end, Dr. Ferguson thanked the Director and the Organization for the invitation to speak and said that, for a new minister as himself, "this kind of orientation really makes a difference".

On Sunday, 22 July, Dr. Ferguson will participate in the XIX International AIDS Conference, which will gather thousands of people in Washington D.C.