The central government has traditionally provided most medical services in Jamaica through the Ministry of Health. The National Health Services Act of 1997 authorized the decentralization of the health care system through the creation of regional health authorities and the restructuring of the national Ministry of Health. In 1996, the island had 364 government-operated primary health centers offering five levels of service. There were 23 public hospitals in 1995. There were also nine small private hospitals. In 1995 there were 417 doctors and 1,836 registered nurses. As of 1999, there were an estimated 1.4 physicians and2.1 hospital beds per 1,000 people. As of 1999 total health care expenditure was estimated at 5.5% of GDP.
The government conducts a broad public health program, involving epidemic control, health education, industrial health protection, and campaigns against tuberculosis, venereal diseases, yaws, and malaria. These programs have brought about a significant decrease in the death rate. As of 2002 the death rate was estimated at 5.5 per 1,000 people. The infant mortality rate was 20 per 1,000 live births in 2000. Tuberculosis, hookworm, and venereal diseases remain the most prevalent diseases. Immunization programs are conducted against poliomyelitis and diphtheria, with 1997 vaccination rates for children up to one year of age as follows: tuberculosis, 97%; diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 90%; polio, 90%; and measles, 88%. As of 2000, 7% of Jamaica's children under five years old were considered malnourished and an estimated 11% of births were low birth weight in 1999. In 2000, 71% of the population had access to safe drinking water and 84% had adequate sanitation. Life expectancy averaged 75 years for both men and women in 2000. The maternal mortality rate was 120 per 100,000 live births in 1998.
Since 1987 the annual AIDS case rates have doubled every two years. As of 1999, the number of people living with HIV/AIDS was estimated at 9,900 and deaths from AIDS that year were estimated at 650. HIV prevalence was 0.71 per 100 adults. Heterosexual transmission predominates.