Overall, Jamaicans enjoy good health, with life expectancy averaging 75 years. The Jamaican government established one of the world's first national health services in 1966 and has had a strong commitment to preventative care and treatment ever since. Government-funded inoculation programs and investment in improved sanitation have reduced many diseases, although the growing rate of HIV infection among Jamaicans is a serious concern. Family planning services and programs have lowered the country's high birth rate-an important step for this densely populated island.
For many years, a network of government-operated public hospitals and clinics provided free Western-style medical care. Jamaica's educational institutions produce excellent doctors and nurses, many of whom now work in towns and cities across Canada.
Since the 1980s, however, economic pressures have diverted public funds away from health and social services. There has been a significant rise in the number of private hospitals and private clinics. Health care is now very expensive, with long waiting lists for treatment at understaffed clinics and hospitals. Most drugs have to be imported and are extremely costly.
In the absence of affordable medical care, many Jamaicans rely on traditional remedies, going to a doctor only when these fail. Herbal medicines are popular, and herbal medicine practitioners and balmists, who practise bush medicine, provide treatment for a wide range of ailments. Herbs are administered as an infusion (tea), a poultice or bath. A popular treatment is bush tea, which can contain many ingredients such as lemon, fevergrass, soursop, breadfruit leaves and pepper elder. Emotional or psychological disorders can be treated by applying a cloth dampened with nutmeg oil or lavender water to the patient's head. The herbs "search-mi-heart" and "shame o' lady" are popular treatments for colds and stomach ailments, while ganja can be boiled into a tea for asthma and eye complaints. The cerassee vine is used as an overall health booster and sold in teabags.