The country of Belize (formerly British Honduras) is something of a mystery to many people as is health care in Belize which is very fragmented and something you will need to know about if you’re looking to move to the country. Belize is fairly unique in the Americas as it is the only country with a British colonial heritage and one which still maintains strong links with the UK. With a landmass of under 9000 mi.² and a population of under 350,000 people it is one of the smaller nations in the world although it does have a rather large population growth rate of 2.2%. So what can you expect if you move to Belize and what is the health care situation?
General health care in Belize
The healthcare system in Belize is probably one which will surprise many people bearing in mind the fact that the country is often talked about as some form of tax haven for rich business people and individuals. In simple terms there is a two tier health care system in Belize, one which centres round Belize City, and one which covers the rest of Belize. The difference in funding, services, equipment and practice standards is enormous and will shock and surprise many people.
Despite the fact that the likes of the Internet has opened up many countries such as Belize to the outside world there is still much concern that medical data and statistics emanating from the government are inaccurate and incorrect. Indeed there have been concerns regarding simple issues such as mortality rates due to the fact that many of the population living in rural areas of Belize are unlikely to officially record deaths. Even though the situation is beginning to change there is still a massive difference between treatment available in the city of Belize and the smaller rural districts.
Many blame the colonial culture which is associated with the likes of Belize for the underinvestment in the healthcare system and the ongoing medical issues which many of the population are struggling to come to terms with. Even though life expectancy rates in Belize have increased dramatically from the 1980s, standing around 67 years for males and 72 years for females, there is concern that more can be done. Indeed the death rate more than halved to between the 1950s and the 1980s and there was a 70% reduction in infant mortality rates.
In many ways, comparing the Belize of today to the Belize or 50 or 60 years ago is unrecognisable because the culture, the country, the funding and the governments are so different. However, it does give a snapshot of the Belize of yesteryear and the Belize of today and the future.
Public health care in Belize
While public health care in Belize is available to all of the population there is no doubt that the vast majority of funding has been targeted towards Belize City and the eight hospitals in and around the region. This has in many ways been to the detriment of more rural areas of Belize which are very much been left to their own devices amid concerns about the standard of health care available in these regions and the actual medical statistics relayed to the United Nations and other outside parties. Indeed the United Nations deemed that figures emanating from Belize with regards to mortality rates and medical conditions were unreliable and hence not included in official reports and forecasts.
Government healthcare policies in the past and in the future are likely to focus upon those who seem to be most at need including children, pregnant women and the poor. There has been some development with regards to more rural area healthcare services and the European Union and other outside parties have agreed to invest in the region. However, there are issues regarding staffing levels and staffing experience with many believing that at this moment in time there are simply not enough experienced medical practitioners in the country to fill the current and future hospital developments under consideration.
Private health care in Belize
There is no doubt that those who can afford private health care in Belize take a very keen interest in this particular area of the marketplace. While the country is often associated with potential tax haven issues and has indeed attracted some of the richest people in the world this is a relatively small number of people and the headlines are therefore a little misleading. As you would expect from any country where there is the slightest increase in average incomes, which has occurred in Belize over last 20 years, the private healthcare companies around the world were not slow in coming forward.
Private healthcare for many people in Belize is a must and not an option bearing in mind the variation in standards of medical treatment, medical services and medical care in the region. Therefore, if you’re looking to move to Belize and if you can afford it you should look towards the private healthcare market to ensure you have the relevant cover in place regarding future medical care.
National health policies and plans
As we touched on above there is no doubt that the government of Belize is focusing on those most in need including children, pregnant women and the poor. While many will argue that this newfound policy is too little too late there is no doubt that progress is being made and changes have had a real impact upon the ground. The very fact that medical statistics in Belize are treated with disdain by outside parties perfectly illustrates the problems of the past where many deaths and illnesses often went unrecorded.
The government has undertaken a major restructuring of the healthcare system in Belize with assistance from the likes of the European Union and United Nations. Even though there are provisions for healthcare, both free and low-cost, for Belize citizens, many of the services available are unreliable and the staff often inexperienced. Until the Belize economy is on a sounder footing it is unlikely we will see massive investment in the free and low-cost medical treatment sector which will push more and more people towards private healthcare.
Expats in Belize
As suggested above, if you’re looking to move to Belize either for work or to relocate you need to be fully aware of the healthcare system in Belize and the very fact that the vast majority of funding is focused upon the country’s larger cities. However, even the better medical practices in Belize struggle to cope with the never-ending queue of patients and many believe there is no alternative but to look towards private healthcare insurance in Belize which will offer a more reliable and a quicker service.
If you’re working for a company in Belize you should check out their corporate healthcare provisions and make full use of these if in place. The difference between private healthcare and public health care is enormous and should in no way be compared to the likes of the UK where we have the NHS as well as a thriving and profitable private healthcare system.
Health care benefits available to expats
Under government legislation each and every member of the Belize population, whether overseas nationals or originally from the region, have access to free medical care throughout the country. However, as we touched on above, the standard and degree of treatment available in the more rural areas of Belize will be very different to that of the larger cities and conurbations. So while in theory each member of the Belize population has access to doctors, hospitals and other medical services, the reliability of these particular operations has been called into doubt.
If you have access to sufficient funding you should be looking towards the private healthcare market which continues to grow and attract experienced and well organised overseas healthcare companies. Too many people there really is no option in Belize but to take out private healthcare if you can afford it.
Medical conditions prevalent in Belize
As you would expect from a relatively poverty stricken country in the Americas, there are a number of medical conditions prevalent in Belize. Malaria, dengue fever, gastroenteritis, cholera, HIV/AIDS and a variety of other conditions connected to the way of life and the standard of sanitation in the country are all very prevalent. You should therefore do your homework before even visiting Belize and ensure that you are fully up-to-date with all of your inoculations and aware of the potential dangers.
Historically the likes of malaria have caused major problems in Belize and even though the treatment of this particular condition has improved dramatically over the years there are still concerns about future outbreaks. Indeed the same can be said of dengue fever, cholera and HIV/AIDS is becoming more and more of a problem due to a lack of education and understanding of these particular issues. When you consider the size of the Belize population, no more than 350,000 people, an outbreak of HIV/AIDS or any of the other medical conditions noted above can have a massive impact upon the population number and population growth.
Make sure you are fully aware of the situation before you even consider moving to Belize or even visiting the country.
The future of health care in Belize
While there is no doubt that the Belize government has made significant changes to the healthcare system there is also no doubt that further funding is required in the short, medium and longer term. Funding has been a problem in Belize in the past and what funding has been made available has been focused primarily upon the lager cities leaving many of the rural areas to fend for themselves. This is changing and will continue to change but it is likely that assistance from outside parties will be required with regards to the structure and the funding of the future healthcare system in Belize.
The fact that the economy of Belize is still fairly volatile, due in the main to its relatively small size, has and continues to cause problems with government budgets and forecasts which can vary widely over a relatively small period of time. Private healthcare in Belize is on the up and up and those who can afford to look at this particular sector would probably be well advised to do so – at least until the public sector is able to recuperate, rebuild and restructure.
Despite the fact that Belize is often mentioned in the same breath as various tax havens around the world, with an indication that only the rich and the famous live in Belize, the situation on the ground could not be further from the truth. Quite why historic funding for healthcare in Belize was primarily targeted at the country’s larger cities is open to debate but this may well have been an attempt to attract more and more overseas companies to the region. However, there is no doubt that this focus upon larger cities and large conurbations in Belize left many of the rural areas high and dry with even medical statistics unreliable.
If you’re looking to move to Belize, as the public sector continues to grow and rebuild, it is probably advisable to look towards the private healthcare sector as a means of putting the support in place which you will require at some point. Depending upon the public sector for medical treatment is very much a game of Russian roulette and will depend heavily upon which area of the country you are in and what type of treatment you require.
Many of the rural areas of Belize are breeding grounds for potentially fatal medical conditions and when you consider that the likes of malaria, cholera and other similar conditions are still commonplace you do begin to wonder. Until the massive difference between the “haves and the have-nots” in Belize is addressed the difference between the standard of medical treatment available in the rural areas and the larger conurbations will continue to widen. The authorities have made some headway over the last few years, with the assistance of a number of outside parties, but there is still much work to be done in a country which to all intents and purposes has a rural medical system which is very much stuck in the past.