Making a Difference: Education and Health in Rural Jamaica

April 12, 2010

KINGSTON, Jamaica, April 12, 2010 - St. Mary, a rural parish known for its agriculture, is also one of the least developed parishes in Jamaica. Access to modern educational facilities remains a challenge and St. Mary’s AIDS rate is currently 321 per 100,000 persons.

The World Bank, through various projects, is trying to improve human capital development and contribute to reducing HIV among vulnerable groups. Ms. Evangeline Javier, Human Development Sector Director for the Latin America and the Caribbean at the World Bank, recently visited three institutions in St. Mary to see first-hand, progress made under various projects and to hear from beneficiaries what the changes have meant for them.

Ms. Javier visited Joyce Eccleston Basic School, Annotto Bay High School and the Port Maria Clinic. These three institutions, which benefitted from World Bank funding and program support under five different projects, provide local residents with basic tools, including proper infrastructure, increased access to schools and access to medication and treatment facilities for persons living with HIV and AIDS, to improve their quality of life.
Infrastructure and Increased Access to Schools and Teaching Aids

A leaky, old building beside a busy road and grounds that flooded after rains are exactly what pupils of Joyce Eccleston Basic School had to deal with daily.

Through funds committed by the World Bank under the National Community Development Project, the 45 students and 3 teachers now enjoy classes in a renovated, secure building, with several class rooms, an office, kitchen and indoor bathrooms.

It is really nice to have the place looking new and with a fence in place. We can now allow the kids to play outside without worrying about them running in the path of unsuspecting motorists,” said an excited Ms. Beverley Vassell, who joined the school in 1981 and became the principal in 1983. She explained that because of the project, the school has met most of the requirements to qualify for registration as a government certified early childhood institution.

Like the Joyce Eccleston Basic School, the Annotto Bay High School is another institution in St. Mary that benefitted from World Bank initiatives. Annotto Bay High was one of two schools expanded under the World Bank sponsored Reform of Secondary Education II Project. Expansion was completed in 2007 with the construction of three two-storey blocks to accommodate five classrooms, a staff room, vice principal's office, computer, science and, food and nutrition laboratories, building technology workshops, storerooms and student bathrooms.

The new facilities were fully furnished and the expansion allowed the school to move off the “double-shift” system, a high priority for the Ministry of Education. Teachers at the school benefitted from the ROSE curriculum and the institution received a school improvement grant to raise literacy and numeracy. In addition, about half of the total student population benefit from the conditional cash transfer (PATH) program, which is funded by a Social Protection loan from the World Bank.

The facilities created by the Bank will act as a launch pad for the introduction of the non-traditional teaching aids using internet based technology that will definitely expose and raise the skills level of the kids in the constituency,” said Tarn Peralto, Member of Parliament for South East St. Mary.

Access to Medication and Treatment Facilities for the HIV/AIDS Patients
In 2004, the Port Maria Clinic received medication for clients living with HIV, laboratory equipment, computers and a new pharmacy from funds provided by the World Bank under the first HIV/AIDS Project. Currently, there are 450 HIV positive clients on ARV treatment at the clinic. Ms. Javier expressed alarm at the fact that while approximately 95 per cent of HIV/AIDS clients are registered with the PATH program, most of them do not benefit from or qualify for the programme.

With my limited budget, it is difficult to buy enough drugs for my HIV/AIDS patients who are increasingly being diagnosed with other life threatening, non-communicable diseases,” said a very passionate Dr. San San Win, a native of Myanmar and now Chief Medical Officer of St Mary. “It is almost like helplessly watching a child suffer.”

Going Forward

The Joyce Eccleston Basic and Annotto Bay High Schools, the Port Maria Clinic and, by extension, the entire parish of St. Mary are examples of how World Bank projects contribute to poverty reduction in Jamaica by improving access to basic infrastructure in health and education. These activities are expected to provide the skills, knowledge and services which will bolster employment rates, improve incomes and reduce the spread of HIV among vulnerable groups. In short, they hold great promise for improving the lives of thousands of Jamaicans.