Dr Judith Mendes – Jamaica

Project: COVID-19 Evidence-to-Policy Pathways in Jamaica, a Small Island Developing State in Economic Turnaround

This case study on Jamaica will cover the 14-month period from February 2020 (which the saw the first two policy actions: banning cruise ships from docking and requiring arriving persons who had visited China in the previous 14 days to quarantine) to March 2021 (in order to include the GOJ’s 2021-2022 budget which should reflect any policy transitions from emergency measures to longer-term options).

Jamaica was one of the world’s most indebted nations in 2013 with a debt to GDP ratio of 147%. By the start of the pandemic, Jamaica had reduced its debt to 96% of GDP (the first time debt had been less than GDP this century) while simultaneously reduced its poverty rate from 17.4 % to 12.6% of the population. Unsurprisingly then, the Government of Jamaica’s response to the pandemic was focused on preserving these recent economic gains.

Also looming over all the pandemic policy responses for much of 2020 was the General Election. The ruling Jamaica Labour Party had won the 2016 election by a single seat in parliament (JLP – 32 seats, PNP – 31 seats). Failure to control the pandemic could lead to the government’s failure in the next elections. The General Election was held on 3rd September 2020 and the JLP was re-elected by a landslide 49 to 14 seat majority.

The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management had a pandemic response plan that was prepared with the assistance of Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) in 2017. This plan was largely bypassed, with immediate health responses being managed by the Ministry of Health, and a new COVID-19 Economic Recovery Taskforce established, under the chairmanship of the Minister of Finance, in April 2020 to coordinate the island’s pandemic response. Two more task forces were established: The University of the West Indies’s COVID-19 task force to provide expertise, and more recently, in September, the Ministry of Education’s E-COVID Management Task Force to guide the reopening of schools (which have been closed since March).

The case study will consist of 3 distinct activities:

1. Policy Intervention Timeline – The sequence of interventions will be retroactively documented using the INGSA rapporteur form and publicly available information from newspapers, government ministry websites and The Jamaica Gazette (in which all amendments to the Disaster Management Act must be published);

2. Institutional and Actor Mapping – Having generated the chronology of policy interventions, the institutions and key actors recorded in the timeline, and their relationship to each other will be mapped;

3. Key Informant Interviews – Having mapped the pandemic response ecosystem, key informants will be interviewed. We estimate that at least 30 semi-structured interviews will be conducted with particular attention on policy changes with the intention of identifying what information instigated the change.

The results of the study will attempt to show: why some existing institutional structures were not utilised in the pandemic response, what effect the General Elections played in shaping the pandemic response, and the extent to which the local academic community contributed to the pandemic response.


Dr Judith Mendes is a researcher and policy advisor who has lived and worked in multiple sectors throughout the English-speaking Caribbean. She has a PhD in Marine Sciences from the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, a Masters in Ecological Economics from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in Spain, and is a PMI certified Project Management Professional. She has executed consultancies for international donors, and is currently the Director of Research at Jamaica’s National Commission on Science and Technology.

Media Coverage:

March 2021: ‘Jamaican Scientists Win International Awards’ – Jamaica Information ServiceJamaica ObserverLoop Jamaica Online