What do Medicine and Politics have in common? According to Patty Arceo and Dr. Giovanni Solorzano: a lot. Both were speakers at AGUSM (American Global University School of Medicine) on Friday, February 25th, 2011. Students have a variety of courses to take during the week, but on Fridays they get to listen to invited guests that, more often than not, can guide them and answer some burning questions.
Patty Arceo, former minister under the PUP administration, spoke at length of the many programs within the Ministry of Health that are geared towards the improvement of health care in Belize. According to Arceo, Belize’s health care is sub-standard, more on par with other Central American countries than within UN standards. Even with approximately 200 volunteer doctors and health care specialists who come from Cuba, the fact that they only have the basic equipment means that any help they render is limited.While for many in the modern world medicine is something that is natural to turn to, and education has taught us to go to our doctors for advice and help, Arceo stated that for much of the population, cultural taboos mean that not all will seek help. She used the example of the cultural differences of the Maya, especially in the southern region of Belize. While for many, having children at the age of 11 or 12 is unfathomable, due to differences in culture, that age is not too young for a Mayan girl to start a family. However, with education, that mindset has slowly been changing.
There is a lot that needs to happen for these changes to move forward at as fast a pace as our population seems to be growing. Legislations, creating a bill of rights for all three involved, patient, doctor and institution, is where politics comes into play. Arceo also mentioned the fact that the changing of administration sometimes means that programs get cut halfway, or do not receive the same kind of support as with previous administrations. Studies that take up to 10 years to complete are in jeopardy, and in the process, so is health, when the Ministry of Health’s key players change.
Dr. Giovanni Solorzano, Deputy Director at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH), is also a quality assurance physician, and he also presented his views to the gathered students. Quality assurance, according to Solorzano, is relatively new to Belize – but has become very important as there is a definite need for accountability, especially with the number of physicians who immigrate to Belize. Having a cohesive plan of action provides standards that all doctors must adhere to.
Solorzano also stated that up to 1999, healthcare was free. Then National Health Insurance (NHI) came into effect, based on recommendations by the Inter-Development Bank (IDB) and World Health Organization (WHO). However, despite being in existence for over 10 years, NHI still only serves about 1/3 of the entire population of Belize – with most of the beneficiaries being from the Southern districts and Southside Belize.
NHI was originally scheduled to cover all Belizeans, having been implemented by the PUP administration. After the changing of government, NHI was stopped, due to lack of funds. The only way that NHI is running is through the usage of Belize’s National Social Security funds. Government only allocated around 4.5% of the national budget to healthcare, and the issue is finding money to provide proper healthcare to ALL Belizeans. Solorzano then laid out some suggestions for funding, maintaining that above all, government needs to work with the medical professionals to streamline the system, providing more of what the population needs, and less of what it doesn’t.
As director of the KHMH, Solorzano is well aware of the need for funding for national healthcare. In order to provide proper service via the national hospital, $23million is needed to run KHMH. Only $18million is provided by the government. Ultimately, those that suffer are the patients. While there is a lot to be desired in the Belize healthcare system, in particular when it comes to Maternal Health and Early Childcare, Diabetes, and Emergency healthcare, there is still a lot of progress. Education campaigns for cleanliness, HIV/AIDS education, as well as Mental Health awareness have brought many people and volunteer groups together to help provide a service.
For those who plan on becoming doctors, including those at AGUSM, there is a lot to be learned about medicine and politics, and educating oneself early on makes for a better transition.