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.

Conclusion

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