amaica's National Health Fund (NHF) is to subsidise up to 80% of the cost of diabetes treatments in a move that will cost an estimated US$495mn per year. In October 2004, the subsidy was increased to 50% from its original level of 35% when the NHF began in 2003.

Previously, even with a 50% subsidy, many patients could not afford to fill their prescriptions. Under the new scheme, beneficiaries will also be able to purchase specific medical supplies, such as syringes and test strips to measure blood sugar levels, to help manage their condition. Over 400,000 -- or one in six -- Jamaicans suffer from diabetes.

The move comes after a recent US$18.58mn grant from the NHF to help improve asthma treatment in the country. The money will be spent training healthcare providers and acquiring specialised equipment. Asthma is becoming an increasingly serious problem in Jamaica, due to poor environmental conditions, with the number of people hospitalised due to the disease growing steadily in the past decade.

The NHF was set up two years ago to increase access to healthcare by providing subsidies for 16 chronic illnesses including asthma, epilepsy, arthritis, prostate cancer and glaucoma. Currently, the programme covers 65,000 people, with numbers expected to grow by 20,000 next year. The NHF is funded through taxes on tobacco products, as well as payroll contributions from both employees and employers.