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Belize - Health Service
Contributions into the SSB scheme are made by employees and their employers. The scheme covers emergency and elective medical treatment, and offers benefits to those unable to work through illness, maternity and retirement.
The public healthcare system, which provides the majority of healthcare in Belize, is run by the government’s ministry of health. Since 1990, there have been reforms to the state healthcare system which increased involvement of the private sector in state run services.
There is a significant variation in the emergency and elective services offered across the country. Rural services are quite basic when compared to the modern, well-equipped medical centers in Belize City. The differing resources available to these hospitals obviously impacts on the quality of medical care they can offer. One of the reasons for this disparity is the large percentage of health funds specifically allocated to funding public healthcare in Belize City.
In Belize today, practices such as Spiral C.T scans, X-ray services, mammogram, 4D ultrasound and bone mineral density are more readily available. Natural and herbal medicines are also traditional in Belize.
Treatment for mental health issues has been part of the state healthcare provision for many years. The Rockview Hospital in the Central region and the Belmopan Hospital in the Western region provide the majority of mental health treatment, especially to those requiring urgent inpatient care. The district hospitals each employ psychiatric staff to deliver outpatient care.
Struggling To Meet Demand
As in many other countries, the healthcare system in Belize struggles to meet demand. There are waiting lists for referrals, and medical staff vacancies. The Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital is one of the country’s premier hospitals, but has experienced shortages in medical supplies and problems with maintenance of technical equipment.
Some medical services have not yet been developed in Belize. Biopsy samples, for example, are sent overseas for testing, increasing the patient’s wait for test results. Chemotherapy is available in Belize, but radiation therapy is not. This is partly a result of reduced resources. In addition, experienced and qualified staff are needed to run any medical process, and Belize struggles to recruit and maintain these staff in sufficient quantity.
Shortages of medical staff are not unique to Belize but do cause pressure on this country’s state healthcare service. Well-qualified individuals can earn far more working by in more prosperous countries. Those medical staff who do work in Belize tend to prefer easy access to the superior work and leisure facilities available in Belize City. Therefore this staff shortage is particularly acute in areas other than Belize City.
If you have not made the required contributions to the public insurance scheme, you are not eligible to receive free state healthcare and so will have to pay for state medical services. For many expats, this will be affordable as costs are low when compared to those of private healthcare in many developed countries.
Many expats will choose to access private healthcare in order to avoid waiting lists for state funded appointments. Approximately 25 percent of the medical workforce in Belize are employed in the private sector, delivering private healthcare to 15 percent of the population. Treatment can be provided more quickly to these people. In addition, inpatients at state run hospitals will be placed on shared wards with shared bathrooms. For those who can afford it, a private room with an en suite bathroom is often preferable.
You can access private healthcare by purchasing a private healthcare plan, or by paying directly for treatment you have received. While consultation costs are affordable, surgery and duration of care in hospital can make the costs add up. A private healthcare plan would prevent expensive bills appearing when you are ill or have had an accident. A number of insurance companies in Belize offer private healthcare plans for residents, and these make access to help when you need it more straightforward than holding an international insurance product.
La Loma Luz Hospital, Belize Medical Associates and Universal Health Services deliver in-patient hospital care. More than 50 private clinics also operate around the country. Some of these hospitals and clinics are run for profit, whilst other deliver private care on a not for profit basis.
Staying Healthy In Belize
In order to keep healthy, avoid drinking water out of the tap. In many areas around the country, rainwater is collected and used by families as their main water source. The tap water in Belize City approaches western standards, but it is best to purchase bottled water. Given the humidity, heat and risk of sunstroke, make sure you drink plenty of bottled water each day. When ordering drinks in bars and restaurants, ask that ice is not added to your drink. Whilst the ice will cool the drink, you do not know what the water source was.
You will need a number of vaccinations before you enter Belize. You should obtain these about six weeks before arrival.
Female mosquitos who are pregnant and about to lay eggs will bite humans. In many areas of the world, these bites pose no harm to human health. In Belize, however, there are a number of diseases which mosquitos can pass on. In 2016, the global epidemic of the zika virus reached Belize, and within 12 months more than a hundred cases were identified in the country. Mosquito bites are also responsible for the transmission of the chikunyunga virus, which affects victims every year in Belize. Malaria is also present in Belize, especially in the rural areas to the south, west and north of the country.
There are over fifty species of snakes living in the country, eight of which have poison deadly enough to kill humans. These include the aggressive and nocturnal fer de lance, the mild tempered Central American corn snake, the deadly but shy Maya coral snake, the tree dwelling eyelash viper, the small hognose viper, the heavy bodied Mexican moccasin, the neotropical rattlesnake – the only rattlesnake found in Belize – and the stocky nocturnal jumping viper. If you are venturing into the jungle, make sure you have an experienced guide with you. They should be able to recognise venomous snakes and take appropriate emergency action in the rare event that you are bitten.
If you are stung by a scorpion in Belize, it will be painful but your life will not be in danger.
Sand flies are present in a number of areas of Belize. Whilst most people do not suffer ill health after being bitten, leishmaniasis disease sometimes occurs. If your bites do not heal, ask for a referral to a tropical medicine specialist, otherwise you may be left with small scars.
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