Unemployment Inequality in Belize

In 2019, over 60,000 people in Belize had employment in the country’s tourism industry. The country’s relatively small economy is primarily dependent on tourism, which accounts for 40% of the country’s GDP and 70% of export proceeds. When the COVID-19 pandemic crossed borders into Central America, unemployment levels rose dramatically with the swift restrictions that were placed on international travel and other major industries. This growth in unemployment was coupled with a simultaneous growth in unemployment inequality in Belize, as the women of Belize found themselves more at risk of unemployment than men.

Unemployment on the Rise

Toward the end of 2019, unemployment began to rise in Belize. Reports indicated a jump from 7.7% to 10.4% in the last quarter. Some suggested that this increase in the unemployment rate was due to an unprecedented growth of the labor force and an insufficient job market. Specifically, women found themselves out of employment more than their male counterparts. Figures indicated that an increase in women entering the workforce effectively flooded the labor market, where there were not enough available jobs.

In all the districts of Belize, unemployment rose significantly in 2019. Research indicates that around 6,200 people found themselves unemployed from April 2019 to September of the same year alone. A staggering three-quarters of this demographic were women.

As COVID-19 crept into the country the following year, it became apparent this pattern was set to continue. COVID-19 created the biggest contraction within Belize’s economy to date, which was already in a precarious way prior to the pandemic. ‘Substantial declines’ in vital industries such as tourism, led to a further increase in unemployment inequality in Belize, which continued from 2020 to 2021.

Impacts of Unemployment

Food Insecurity: The rising unemployment rate in Belize had many profound impacts on affected households. Notably, COVID-19 and unemployment directly correlated with an increase in food insecurity and hunger for Belizeans. 25% of households reported that they were skipping meals as a result of economic struggles from the pandemic, and many children who had main meals at school found their access to food restricted as school closures were imposed across the country.

Gender Inequality: The intersection of gender and unemployment in Belize resulted in a widening gap in unemployment inequality. Micro and small enterprises were hit particularly hard by the pandemic, resulting in many closing down and workers finding themselves unemployed. The majority of business owners within these micro and small enterprises were women, making them particularly vulnerable to unemployment.

On job recovery since COVID-19, this pattern of unemployment inequality continued. 21% of jobs held by men were not recovered after the pandemic, yet 38% of jobs held by women were not recovered. This has led to an increase in unemployment inequality in Belize as more women are finding themselves unemployed than men.

The Solution

However, despite this staggering widening of unemployment inequality in Belize, the government has implemented measures which are proving to be relatively effective so far. Executive Secretary Alicia Bárcena for the Economic Commission for Latin America and Caribbean (ECLAC) has identified that in order to reduce the prevalent poverty and hunger rates in Belize, employment policy must be at the center of government policy making. In response, the government has built on the Horizon 2030 Vision Project, which has been running since 2010 to support long term development in Belize.

The Horizon 2030 Vision is focusing on increasing employment opportunities in the Northern Triangle and Southern Region of Belize, for all Belizeans, including women and indigenous people. These two priority areas are seeing investment and protection of small and medium enterprises, and an increase in trade agreements such as the Belize-Guatemala border, in the aim of job creation.


Since Belize implemented this in 2021, a steady decrease in unemployment has been seen as the country begins to reverse the negative impacts of COVID-19. Between 2021 and 2022, unemployment decreased by over half from 10.2% to 5%. This was coupled with a significant increase in the country’s GDP as economic performance and productivity was boosted, which is expected to continue.

To tackle the inequality amongst unemployed persons in Belize, the government increased funding for targeted social spending, such as BOOST, a cash transfer program designed to support families in sending their children to school. This program has been successful in increasing enrolment figures which has directly resulted in increasing the female labor force participation in Belize. As of October 2022, female participation in the labor market stands at 44%. This is a positive result which is indicative of a continuing trend of tackling unemployment inequality in Belize.

– Ariana Mortazavi
Photo: Flickr

Rule of Law in Belize
When one hears the words “Central American prison,” the picture that may come to mind is an overcrowded and unforgiving facility, containing some of the world’s most hardened gang members and violent criminals. However, since it took over operations in 2002, the nonprofit Kolbe Foundation has aimed to quash this cliché by running the Belize Central Prison on a faith-based system that prioritizes inmate rehabilitation, thus improving the rule of law in Belize. In the “Hattieville Ramada,” as locals have nicknamed it, inmates receive an education, as well as vocational training in woodwork, agriculture, welding and construction.

Private Prison with a Positive Mission

Although the Kolbe Foundation privately owns the Belize Central Prison, the nonprofit does not gain any financial reward for its operations. This is a stark contrast to many American prisons, which government agencies contract out to private organizations that stand to make a profit from the number of inmates housed.

Before the Kolbe Foundation took over, the Belize Central Prison did not have a sewer system. It only contained 300 beds, even though there were 900 inmates. Since the Kolbe Foundation took over, recidivism rates have fallen significantly, with only 10% of inmates reoffending five years after release. Along with the lower recidivism rates, Belize’s overall homicide rates have dropped from 42.55 to 29.06 per 100,000 inhabitants.              

Although the Belize Central Prison has made several strides since its 2002 change of ownership, the Belizean Criminal justice system has fallen short in many areas. For example, more than one-third of the inmates in Belize Central Prison are in pre-trial detention, still waiting for the government to charge them with a crime formally and showing the fragility of the rule of law in Belize. According to the U.S. Department of State, corruption and a lack of resources have hampered many of Belize’s counter-narcotics attempts. This lack of resources adversely affects Belize’s fragility and the rule of law, which one can see in its criminal justice system’s inability to prosecute defendants speedily.                                                                         

Even though the inter-governmental Caribbean Community has hailed it as the “model” Central American prison, the U.S. State Department has cited “harsh conditions” and “inadequate sanitation procedures” that contributed to overcrowding issues.                                                                            

Compared to the conditions of other Central American correctional facilities, the Belize Central Prison has experienced many improvements regarding prisoner rehabilitation and crime reduction. On average, the Belize Central Prison only spends $7 per day on each inmate. The average American inmate costs upwards of $100 per day. Despite this significant gap in spending, the Belize Central Prison has still experienced relative success in outcomes after release, such as the integration of prisoners back into society through vocational training and low recidivism rates.

The Necessity of Improvements

The lack of funding is still apparent in many aspects of prison conditions, such as cell ventilation and overcrowding, which has caused sanitary issues. Due to its proximity between South American drug suppliers and Mexico’s southern border, gang violence from the narcotics trade is prevalent in Belize. However, the U.S. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs has attempted to prevent future gang violence in Belize by increasing policing efforts and educating youth in areas with gang activity. By improving the fragility and the rule of law in Belize, international aid can resolve a vital cause of global poverty and violence.

– Salvatore Brancato
Photo: Flickr

Charities Operating in Belize
Belize is the 36th most poverty-stricken country as of 2020. Poverty affects about 42% of Belize’s general population and 58% of children under 18 are multi-dimensionally poor. In 2020, the gross national income per capita in Belize was $3,970, down from $4,700 in 2019. Despite the statistics, there are many organizations and charities operating in Belize to decrease the country’s poverty rate.

Belize Food For The Poor and A Hand to the Needy

Belize Food For The Poor (FFTP) is one of the charities operating in Belize. It began work in 1986 hoping to address poverty in Belize. Since then, one of its main focuses has been on the country’s school feeding program. In Belize, 19% of children experience stunted growth due to malnutrition according to UNICEF. Belize Food For The Poor partners with Belize organization, A Hand to the Needy, to provide help with basic necessities to more than 2,500 families in 44 schools. In 2020, Belize Food For The Poor targeted the COVID-19 crisis by sending 10 trailer loads of food and hygiene products to Belize for those affected by the pandemic. The organization sent 38 trailer loads of essential items ranging from clothing and paper products to food items and household goods to Belize in 2020.

Pack for a Purpose – Belize

Pack for a Purpose is an international organization making efforts to educate individuals on how to supply under-developed countries with basic necessities. The organization works with travelers to supply essentials such as school and medical items to the travelers’ destinations. The supplies go to individuals facing poverty in Belize. Pack for a Purpose initiatives include bettering health care, education, child and animal welfare as well as socioeconomic development. The organization also works with destinations and resorts to bring items to local communities. One partner organization is the Hamanasi Adventure and Dive Resort, which encourages guests to bring any donatable items along for the trip. In 2017, children from the Inspiration Center in Belize City made drawings that were auctioned off at an event to raise funds for the center. This became possible through Pack for a Purpose and its donations of craft and school supplies.

World Pediatric Project – Belize

Latin America’s health care systems are fragmented, making it difficult to ensure health equity for its citizens. Many children in Belize are not registered at birth, meaning that the children have little to no health care options. Because Belize has a population of fewer than 400,00 individuals, it does not have an income tax revenue large enough to fund many public hospitals. The World Pediatric Project of Belize recognizes this issue and works to improve children’s access to medical care. It has been providing Belizean children with care for more than 20 years and has provided 9,096 medical services to 3,274 children. The project has also trained more than 200 health workers in the country.

Belize has historically struggled with widespread poverty and lack of resources. However, the charities operating in Belize have been working closely with the nation to help those in poverty. Their efforts have helped thousands of Belize citizens and continue to do so.

Katelyn Rogers
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

women's rights in BelizeAlthough gender roles in the Americas are constantly evolving, Belizean women still face discrimination. Women make up more than 50% of Belize’s population, yet they are approximately 30% less likely to have the same opportunities as their male counterparts. Belizean women also have little representation in the country’s political, social and economic spheres. The fight for women’s rights in Belize aims to remedy gender-biased treatment by prioritizing equality.

Gender Roles and Gender Gaps

Gender roles in Belize are typically traditional, with significant value placed on marriage and childbearing for women. Belizean women are often expected to stay home and look after the children, while men are the primary breadwinners. In families living in poverty, women often depend on men for economic stability.

The rate of employed people older than 15 and living under the international poverty line in Belize falls at 8.8% for women and 11.3% for men. However, the U.N.  Women Count Data Hub finds that Belize’s unemployment rate for people older than 15 is 9.8% for women but only 4.6% for men.

In regard to political representation, women held only 12.5% of the seats in the nation’s parliament as of February 2021. Women in Belize also face exploitation in the workforce, earning “only 56% of the income” earned by their male counterparts, according to Statista. Yet, in terms of literacy rates for people older than 15, Belizean men and women are on par at 70.3%.

Belize’s gender gap is often attributed to chauvinistic societal standards that favor men and traditional masculinity. Additionally, the lack of gender-based data makes it difficult to assess the true state of women’s rights in Belize. Only about 37% of the data needed to monitor sectors such as unpaid domestic work and violence against women was available as of December 2020.

Violence Against Belizean Women

In the year 1992, “the Belize Domestic Violence Act was passed.” The act was reenacted in 2007, with broadened and extended protections. The Women’s Commission of Belize is an instrumental figure in gender-responsive legislative reform and women’s rights.

In June 2010, the Belizean government adopted the three-year National Gender-based Violence Plan of Action, which aimed to remedy the domestic violence, assault and abuse that disproportionately affects women and young girls. The Women’s Commission also developed a “domestic violence protocol” for Belizean police, “with the goal of improving the effectiveness of police investigative practices in addressing violence against women.”

However, many Belizean women continue to suffer violence, especially those who live in rural areas. More than 70% of rural women experience violence at the hands of their partners. Not only do these women often lack basic infrastructural resources but they also face difficulties in accessing protective services. Additionally, domestic violence studies often overlook Belizean women in rural areas.

Improving Women’s Rights in Belize

In order to promote gender equity, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) guided the creation of the 2017-2021 Country Programme Document (CPD). The CPD outlines a program that prioritizes three focal areas covering issues such as safety, sustainability, health, justice and resilience, “with gender as a cross-cutting theme.” As the CPD addresses poverty, the CPD also aims to address gender equity as part of bettering Belize.

In addition to helping develop domestic violence protocol for law enforcement, the National Women’s Commission of Belize partners with organizations such as the Belize Crime Observatory and the Ministry of Human Development, Families & Indigenous People’s Affairs. As an advisory board to the government, the Commission promotes women’s rights in Belize through political and social advocacy and provides resources to women facing domestic abuse.

In a year, the Belizean police receive more than 2,000 “domestic and sexual violence reports.” However, victims often endure “unfair treatment when reporting.” The National Women’s Commission aims to remedy this with the launch of the Gender-Based Violence Services Complaint Form in 2020. The form encourages reporting and identifies the authorities involved in unjust treatment.

Efforts from the government and organizations contribute to a more equitable future for women in Belize, empowering women to rise out of poverty.

Cory Utsey
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Human Trafficking in Belize
Within a short distance of the Caribbean sea sits Belize, a small country with dense jungles, ancient ruins and tourist resorts. But recently, the coastal country has received classification on the Tier 2 Watch List for human trafficking. However, the country is paying attention to human trafficking in Belize amid the global COVID-19 pandemic. Its government is actively employing new strategies to relinquish this human rights violation.

The main targets of human trafficking in Belize are women and children. Traffickers often lure them into trafficking with promises of gainful employment.

The Human Trafficking Institute

Belize is on the Tier 2 Watch List according to the U.S. Department of State, meaning it does not meet the necessary requirements to prevent human trafficking. The minimum requirements for a Tier 1 ranking include meeting all standards that the Trafficking Victims Protection Act sets. These standards include decreasing the population of trafficking victims from the previous year, reporting all trafficked victims to appropriate officials and following the judicial system.

Seeking to eliminate human trafficking in Belize are the staff at the Human Trafficking Institute (HTI). The institute first emerged in 2015 and has been working toward implementing anti-trafficking laws and prosecuting traffickers to the fullest extent. The institute has made long strides to improve the overall safety in the community. On March 10, 2020, the country celebrated its second conviction, which found Rosa Anita Garcia Julian guilty of two counts of human trafficking. This proved to be a major milestone for the country, as it was the first conviction since 2016.

Most recently, HTI has partnered with Uganda to fight human trafficking. Over 2020, it helped rescue over 130 victims. Its new CEO, Victor Boutros, says changes need to occur in the way government addresses human trafficking. Through international diplomacy, governments could start contracts that commit to the overall safety and protection of victims of human traffickers. Government involvement is crucial in stopping human trafficking.

Importance of Biometrics

Higher conviction rates often lead to lower criminal activity. Technology is helping to prevent further injustices: an example of this technology in action is personal biometric data. Personal biometric data is any unique physical characteristic, like fingerprints, which can lead to convictions.

This data is also stored for future use. A prosecutor can use a fingerprint from 1990 to secure a conviction in a current case. Statistics can help pinpoint problem areas. Statistics track and monitor problem areas and also help to identify victims of human trafficking. Computers can recreate a single photograph of a child at age 10 to show what the child would look like 5 years later. This use of data and biometrics helps to identify and help victims.

Belize’s TIP Ranking

A yearly report tracks progress in lowering human trafficking rates. The TIP, or Trafficking in Persons Report, tracks each country’s progress ranking them in either Tier 1, Tier 2 or Tier 3 categories. Belize remained in the Tier 2 Watch List category for 2020 but is making fast progress to reach Tier 1 status to end human trafficking in Belize. Together, with the help of its government and police officials, it should be able to achieve this goal.

– Nancy Taguiam
Photo: Flickr

Soccer to Combat Poverty
A 5-year-old boy named Alex* stood on the dirt patch in San Pedro, Belize, and punched a fellow soccer player. He had caused a lot of fights in the previous weeks. Katherine Lord, a volunteer with More Than Fútbol, pulled him aside. Lord had just begun running a soccer extracurricular program for The Holy Cross School, the poorest school in Ambergris Caye. She explained to him that the school would not tolerate violence at practice. She told him that he was a natural leader, so if he chose not to fight anymore, he could be team captain. In just a few weeks, Alex began helping her run drills, organize his teammates and even break up fights. For Alex, this after-school soccer program offered a safe space to play and have fun. For years, More than Fútbol has been effectively using soccer to combat poverty in Belize.

More Than Fútbol

Founded by Ali Andrzejewski in 2008, More Than Fútbol is using soccer to combat poverty in Belize. Every year, the organization sends volunteers to San Pedro, Belize for a few weeks. After these few weeks, everyone but one volunteer returns home. This volunteer runs the soccer program and teaches empowerment classes at The Holy Cross School. More Than Fútbol also works in Nicaragua.

In spring 2018, Lord volunteered to stay in San Pedro for five months. She volunteered with More Than Fútbol for four years prior to living in Belize. While there, she taught empowerment, English and math classes and ran the after-school soccer program.

Child Poverty in Belize

In Belize, 58% of children live in poverty. UNICEF estimates that 60% of children do not have access to at least one of proper drinking water, sanitation, housing, nutrition or education. One study from UNICEF found that 19% of children in Belize experience growth stunting due to poverty and 27% of schools do not have clean water.

Poverty in San Pedro, a town in Ambergris Caye, is a serious problem. Many students, like Alex, who attend The Holy Cross School do not have access to electricity or running water at home. Sewage and trash line the streets so acutely that wood boards must cover the roads so that no one steps in the waste. Despite the fact that Ambergris Caye generates about 18% of the country’s GDP from tourism, the island does not receive most of this money. This makes the residents unable to escape poverty.

The Link Between Poverty, Stress and Violence

Poverty, stress and violence all correlate. Children in poverty are seven times more likely to self-harm and become involved in violence. According to the American Psychological Association, “poorer children and teens are… at greater risk for several negative outcomes such as poor academic achievement, school dropout, abuse and neglect, behavioral and socioemotional problems, physical health problems, and developmental delays.” Children in poverty are more likely to have emotional or behavioral concerns such as anxiety, depression, aggression, conduct disorder, difficulty getting along with others and self-esteem issues. Children in poverty are also more likely to experience violence from a young age, which predisposes them to violent behaviors in the future. Parents living in poverty may also experience chronic stress or depression, which can cause them to parent in more severe ways, leading to worse socioemotional outcomes for children.

In Belize, estimates determined that 65% of children (ages 1-14) experience physical and psychological abuse or aggression at home. The Holy Cross School estimates that 90% of the children attending experience abuse from caregivers either physically, psychologically or sexually. Lord explained to The Borgen Project that “there’s a lot of fighting, especially among lower-income people. And it’s just because that’s how kids are treated by their parents. And it’s… I don’t want to say cultural– maybe systematic…. And so the kids would always be… fist fighting with each other and throwing rocks at each other.”

How Sports Can Reduce Stress and Fight Against Poverty

Despite the fact that the children often fought, Lord realized that soccer helped lower their aggression, improve their behaviors and their levels of happiness. Her first-hand experience influenced her to believe in the power of using soccer to combat poverty in Belize. The World Bank has found that empirically speaking, sports can help increase educational outcomes, empower players and encourage leadership. Playing sports can also alleviate anger and frustration and promote happiness.

Furthermore, sports can positively impact children’s development and goal-making. According to the University of Edinburgh, sports “matter because they are proven to boost educational capability, confidence, mental health and other learning skills that help not just education levels but working and social lives.” Sports can also benefit international development.

Other Organizations

Lord’s experience volunteering with More Than Fútbol is unique. However, there are many other organizations working to combat poverty in Belize and other parts of the world through soccer. For example, Street Football World works to empower communities and build soccer programs and stadiums. Love Futbol finances stadiums and supports the surrounding community. The work of these organizations is invaluable because sports can help empower children emotionally and socially. Like Katherine expressed to The Borgen Project, no matter the environment the kids come from, allowing them a space to grow and feel safe and supported can positively impact their moods, behaviors and self-confidence. Overall, it is clear that using sports to combat poverty in Belize is crucial because they can change children’s lives for the better and act as a source of international development.

* Name of Alex changed for privacy

– Sophie Shippe
Photo: Flickr

the BSCFABelize’s sugar cane production has been a major staple to its economy since the 1800s. Today, it supports the livelihood of around 15% of Belizeans, contributes to 6% of Belize’s foreign exchange income and adds 30% gross value to the country’s agriculture. Due to its overall importance, organizations have taken great steps to help protect sugar farmers and improve their working conditions. A major step toward this goal was when the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) became Fairtrade certified in 2008. Since then, the value of sugar from Belize has grown and better working conditions and human rights have been established.

Sugar Cane Farmers in Belize

Sugar cane farmers and plantation workers often struggle because sugar prices in international markets are low and processing sugar cane is long and expensive. Smaller farms also have trouble getting access to lucrative markets that would buy more sugar. The compensation smallholder farmers receive for cane often fails to cover the costs they incur to produce it, leaving them in a debt trap and with little capital to reinvest in farms. They also cannot pay for newer equipment that would help make the process easier, faster and cheaper. The significant amount of time invested in farming to provide an income often leaves little time to engage in other opportunities that can pull them out of poverty, such as education. Fairtrade aims to alleviate these problems by helping people and organizations get better representation in the market and better prices for their crops.

The Impact of Fairtrade Certification

Since 2008, Belize’s sugar cane exports have increased greatly, particularly in the European market. In the first five years of the BSCFA becoming Fairtrade certified, Belize’s sugar cane gross profit grew significantly. Belize has also been able to increase the amount of sugar cane produced every year due to farmers getting resources to control pests in the early stages of the growing process and access to better farming and processing tools. From 2018 to 2019 alone, Belize went from producing 150,000 tons to more than one million tons of sugar cane.

Impact on Communities in Belize

A huge benefit of being Fairtrade certified is that organizations will receive premiums — extra money that farmers and workers can invest in their businesses or the community. The BSCFA gets around $3.5 million in premiums a year and has used that as grants for education, building and repairs, community spaces such as churches and libraries, funerals for impoverished families, water tank systems and more.

The BSCFA has continued advocacy and empowerment efforts to improve the working conditions of sugar cane farmers. In 2015, the BSCFA took a strong stance against child labor, lobbying the government to make laws against child labor and personally suspending support of farms that violated fairtrade practices.

Due to advocacy efforts such as these, the government of Belize has taken steps to stop child labor, such as working on bills that help others identify child labor situations and updating its Child Labor Policy to add additional protection for children. It also established a Child Labor Secretariat that works on identifying and reporting child labor cases.

Fairtrade and the BSCFA have made significant strides in protecting the rights of sugar cane farmers while expanding the economy. These efforts are lifting people out of poverty and ensuring that fairness prevails.

– Mikayla Burton
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in BelizeGovernment efforts have begun to reduce extreme poverty and hunger in Belize. However, a lack of focus on the wellbeing of the nation’s poor has rendered this aid ineffective. Thus, widespread poverty and poor nutrition remain pressing issues in a country whose GDP has grown steadily for nearly two decades. Since the year 2000, the government of Belize has participated in working toward eight Millennium Development Goals concerned with improving the quality of life and bolstering economic stability throughout the world. While Belize is making headway in numerous other categories, such as in providing universal education and promoting gender equality, a lack of attention given to the needs of vulnerable groups hurts this progress. In particular, hunger in Belize continues to be an issue for many marginalized groups.

The Impact of Gender Inequality on Hunger in Belize

Gendered differences in economic opportunity contribute directly to poor nutrition and hunger in Belize. Though the country has made efforts to improve equal participation of men and women in the economy, the women of Belize continue to suffer from employment discrimination. This makes many statistics concerning the nation’s economic condition somewhat inaccurate.

While Belize’s economy may seem to be flourishing based on statistics like GDP, the nation suffers from a high national unemployment rate of about 8%. Gender inequality exacerbates this for the women of Belize, whose unemployment rate is nearly three times higher than the national average.

Women in Belize participate in the labor force at a rate of only 62.5% to that of their male counterparts. As a result, gender inequality has deprived mothers of the resources necessary for raising healthy children. On top of the disproportionate difficulty of finding work as a woman in Belize, women also lack education about proper diet and exercise. Perhaps more importantly, they lack access to healthy food options, which tend to be more expensive than foods high in sugar and salt. Thus, women’s inequality exacerbates hunger in Belize.

Children’s Hunger in Belize

Belize’s economy depends directly on seasonal agricultural exports, such as rum, to support the economy. This means that fruits, vegetables and other natural products are among the most expensive in the nation’s domestic marketplace. The result of this limited access to healthy food has been a high rate of stunted growth and poor nutrition among children. This is particularly important as this demographic has grown the last two decades.

A Selective Humanitarian Response

The government of Belize has helped some of its more vulnerable demographics. The Belize Social Security Board, for example, has helped many elderly people avoid poverty. Additionally, programs like the Conditional Cash Transfer Program provide vulnerable communities in Belize with monetary security.

A reduction in the poverty rate amongst elderly Belizeans indicates that these programs have achieved some success. However, the government of Belize issues this aid on a selective basis. It therefore leaves women, children and members of the LGBT population without relief. This makes hunger in Belize a serious issue among these populations, lacking the financial means to secure access to nutritious food.

Though the Belizean government has helped some groups overcome hunger, discrimination has left some of the most vulnerable groups of Belizeans poor and hungry. Marginalized groups in Belize continue to suffer from the weakness of their nation’s economy. However, they are often those most excluded from relief. If hunger in Belize is to be eradicated, the government must first address social inequality in the population.

Anthony Lyon
Photo: Pixabay

Healthcare in Belize
Belize is a small Central American country with fewer citizens than many major American cities. Though the population is so small, Belize has struggled to provide adequate health care services in the past. Lately, however, public and private services have been working in tandem to better healthcare in Belize. Since the creation of the Health Care Strategic Plan in 2014, Belize has made a committed effort to improving healthcare policies and systems to best serve its population. The three initiatives below highlight recent successes in the effort to improve healthcare in Belize.

Health Sector Strategic Plan 2014-2024

In 2014, the World Health Organization in conjunction with the government of Belize created the Health Sector Strategic Plan. The plan created a framework and targets to be reached by 2024 focused around developing a more sustainable and people-centered healthcare system. The approach includes six key pillars of healthcare: governance and leadership, service delivery, financing, human resource in health, informational systems and medicines and technology.

The strategic plan includes a vast range of healthcare subcategories so that it can address healthcare inequity from multiple fronts. Some of the specific challenges faced by healthcare in Belize that the initiative has made plans to overcome include:

  • Unequal distribution of healthcare: This includes shortages of specialty providers and creates an imbalanced system. Belize often has to import healthcare workers, especially in certain specialties and to specific geographic locations.
  • Unequal healthcare financing: Access to care is limited and financial coverage is highly dependent on region.
  • Fragmentation: Belizean’s often don’t experience continuity of care. This system of receiving medical care only when necessary and not from the same provider leads to a higher risk of non-communicable diseases such as chronic illnesses, mental health disorders, and violence-related injuries.

The Health Sector Strategic Plan has also created the framework and put into practice viable solutions to address these issues.

  • National Health Insurance (NHI): Belize has initiated a system to expand national health insurance to more regions in order to address healthcare inequity and improve the financing system. The NHI system provides many primary care services to Belizean’s without cost.
  • Integrated primary health care approach: This approach specifically addresses fragmentation by implementing programs that assist with lifestyle-related health and wellness by a primary care physician.
  • Expanding the workforce: Expanded training programs both domestically and in conjunction with outside programs are helping to bolster the workforce.

Wisconsin Medical School’s Partnership with Belize Hospitals

Significant hurdle healthcare in Belize has faced is a shortage of medical professionals. To combat this issue, Belize has repeatedly had to import healthcare workers, which is often only a temporary solution. In order to strengthen the system from within, partnering programs with foreign medical schools help decrease provider shortages and better prepare hospital management and healthcare workers for best treating patients.

Beginning in 2010, The Global Health Department of the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) created a collaborative partnership with the Belize Ministry of Health to improve emergency medicine. Leaders from hospitals in Belize have met with MCW faculty to plan specific training goals in order to best address concerns specific to Belize.

The collective efforts of the initiative have produced goals for improving both emergency care and disaster preparedness and relief. They have also produced a tangible change in the form of training partnerships that work to standardize education and patient care. Rather than function as short term outreach, the partnership is committed to long-term collaboration and seeks to create a sustainable education model to improve healthcare in Belize.

Pan American Health Organization

One of the primary reasons that Belizean’s face unstable access to care is due to regional inconsistencies and shortages of healthcare workers. In addition to the Health Sector Strategic Plan, in 2019 the Pan American Health Organization together with the Ministry of Health produced The Strategic Plan on Human Resources for Universal Health 2019-2024.

One of the core goals of the Health Care Strategic Plan is to improve healthcare in Belize by addressing unequal access to care. The plan created a targeted approach for combatting inequities in health care by focusing on training personnel, creating improved working conditions, and developing a standard system for education and professional practices. The plan does more than just train workers, it gives them an incentive for providing quality care.

This focused strategy in combination with the longer term Health Sector Strategic Plan aims to improve both conditions for providers and access to enhanced health care for millions of Belizeans. Improving conditions for providers in addition to providing practical competency training in all geographic regions motivates providers to issue high-quality care and remain longer in the same area. The goal of the health workforce expansion plan is to improve healthcare in Belize through promoting quality and reliable care in all areas by empowering the professionals that provide it.


These three initiatives have been working with the Belizean government to best adapt to the health care needs of the population. Approaching improvements from a variety of angles, together they are working towards a wholistic betterment of healthcare in Belize.

Jazmin Johnson
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 in Belize
While the global community has certainly experienced unprecedented hardship in the wake of COVID-19, many organizations worldwide have stepped up to offer help where it is needed. Belize has been a recipient of such aid, having recently experienced a medical supply shortage in all geographic regions. In response to these limitations, as well as shortages of trained response teams, donations of medical equipment, testing kits and training programs have been offered by various countries and international groups. Below are four ways the international community has responded to COVID-19 in Belize.

4 Ways the International Community Has Responded to COVID-19 in Belize

  1. International COVID-19 Relief Donations. In response to shortages of testing kits and medical supplies, the Pan American Health Organization, together with the World Health Organization, made multiple donations to both the Belize Ministry of Health and the Central Medical Laboratory in April and May 2020. These donations included personal protective equipment necessary to keep health providers safe as well as supplies needed to conduct testing. These organizations were able to donate 100 gowns, 420 N-95 masks, 1,500 boxes of gloves, 750 reaction kits and 130 testing swabs to support the fight against COVID-19 in Belize.
  2. Taiwanese Donation of COVID-19 Supplies. Not only has Belize has been receiving donations of medical equipment from international relief organizations, but also from individual countries working to make a difference. Taiwan has made multiple donations to Belize in June and July of 2020. The donations included; thousands of testing kits, thermometers, ventilators, and protective equipment including over 270,000 masks, together totaling more than $1 million in supplies. A large hurdle in slowing the spread of COVID-19 in Belize is accurate and fast testing: to aid with this obstacle, Taiwan developed rapid antibody tests able to deliver results in just 15 minutes with 95% specificity, and included 5,000 of these tests, along with accompanying analyzers, in their donation to Belize. These donations are just a single example of the long-standing friendship between the two countries.
  3. Community Volunteer Training for COVID-19 Centers. The Pan American Health Organization, along with the World Health Organization and the Belize Ministry of Health, held training sessions in April and May 2020 to provide volunteer medical staff with life-saving information regarding the prevention and control of COVID-19. The training included instruction on proper management of quarantine centers as well as practical infection prevention education. These training sessions have been provided on an ongoing basis by the Ministry of Health, and have been successful in preparing Red Cross volunteers for as-needed deployment to quarantine centers across Belize, as regions have been experiencing varying needs for additional resources as case numbers fluctuate. Another way these training sessions have prepared volunteers to face COVID-19 in Belize is through psychosocial support and training, helping to produce volunteers that are prepared to fight COVID-19 on all fronts.
  4. World Bank COVID-19 Assistance Program. In addition to the clear health implications of COVID-19 in Belize, the country’s most vulnerable populations have also experienced severe social and economic challenges in the wake of the pandemic. In response, the World Bank donated 12.4 million in July 2020 to support Belize’s social protection programs. The funds will be managed by the Ministry of Human Development, Social Transformation and Poverty Alleviation, and will provide support for those most affected by COVID-19. Support will specifically be used to further aid those already receiving government assistance as well as those who don’t normally qualify, under a temporary COVID-19 relief program. Funds will be allocated to those experiencing poverty, with priority going to households containing children, pregnant women, elderly or persons with disabilities. The donation is expected to affect as many as 13,000 households affected by COVID-19 in Belize.

Efforts such as these are making progress against the spread of COVID-19 in Belize, and demonstrate the benefits of global cooperation amid a devastating pandemic.

Jazmin Johnson
Photo: Unsplash