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Prescriptions In Jamaica: What Is Available And How To Ensure You Get The Right Level Of Care

It can be problematic to access prescriptions in Jamaica. Expats have reported long queues and a shortage of prescription medication in the island’s pharmacies. Therefore, you may wish to consider taking a three-month supply of drugs with you, when you first enter the country. This will tide you over until you have established a mechanism whereby you can get your prescriptions filled with more ease. We will look at some of your options below. 


What is available?

You can take your medication into Jamaica, but make sure that you keep it in your hand luggage, rather than your check-in luggage. Leave your medication in its original packaging to avoid any queries. 

As in many other nations, some medication will come under the Opium Act. You will need a medical certificate for sleeping pills, medication for ADHD and strong painkillers.

The Health Ministry has made efforts to improve patient access to prescription medication, with the Public-Private Sector Pharmacy Programme initiative, which permits private pharmacies, partnering with the National Health Fund (NHF), to dispense prescription drugs to the public. The Health Ministry reports that this has significantly improved ease of access to prescription medication at government-run health facilities. Waiting times have been reduced from over two hours to 90 minutes. 

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Since the programme began in December 2016, nearly 80,000 prescriptions have been filled by 17 participating pharmacies in Kingston, Clarendon and St. James. The NHF paid out $4.1 billion, in 2016, to private pharmacies participating in its programme, which aims to increase the options patients have in filling specific prescription drugs on the vital, essential and necessary (VEN) list. The NHF website includes a list of participating pharmacies. 

Residents of Jamaica seeking healthcare in the public health sector will now have access to all health services, as well as VEN list medication, for no out-of-pocket costs, if they present the GOJ health card. This card can be used at all Drug Serv pharmacies, as well as at public sector partner pharmacies. 

For older residents, the JADEP scheme provides a specific list of drugs, free of charge, to beneficiaries aged 60 years and over who suffer from any of 10 specified chronic illnesses:

  • Hypertension
  • Cardiac conditions
  • Arthritis
  • Benign prostatic hyperplasia
  • High cholesterol
  • Vascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Glaucoma
  • Asthma
  • Psychiatric conditions

The NHF also includes a list of qualifying drugs on its website, which is regularly updated. 

This does, however, beg the question of whether your pharmacy will have the medication that you need. Check with your GP and the pharmacy itself whether your medication is likely to be in stock. It might be better to order it online. Generic over-the-counter medicine, such as allergy medication, antacids,  and basic painkillers (such as ibuprofen and cough medicine), should not be in short supply. 


How much do prescriptions cost?

Jamaica imports virtually all of its pharmaceutical products, so costs vary, but medication can be expensive. Drug prices have been rising, and currency rates in recent years have seen Jamaica at a disadvantage. An audit around 2010 found that the regions were purchasing prescription drugs, valued at $796 million, from private suppliers and thus increasing the cost to the government. This is still having a knock-on effect. 


How to get the care you need

You should have little difficulty finding a local GP and pharmacy, but, as mentioned above, medication may not be in stock. You may need a doctor’s letter to take some equipment, such as syringes if you are diabetic, into the country.

Therefore, you may wish to order your medication online and have it delivered. If you are registered with the NHF, you can use online prescription services, such as Quick Prescript. You can download the Quick Prescript App from Google Play or the AppStore using your smartphone. Once you have downloaded the app, you can enter some basic information about yourself and register. A Quick Prescript agent may ask you some questions, but once this is done, the app will notify you that your prescription is ready. 

You can also submit your prescription using a Quick Prescript Kiosk, which are available in many public sector pharmacies across the island. There are also many online medication delivery services. 

 Recommended vaccinations for Jamaica are: 

  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Measles
  • Mumps
  • Rubella
  • Tetanus-Diphtheria

If you are visiting from a country where yellow fever is present, you will have to present a yellow fever certificate. If you have any questions regarding your medication or vaccines, you should contact your local Jamaican diplomatic mission before you fly.

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