Pay or Die: The Crisis facing the Medical Industry in Belize By: Aria Lightfoot


pay or dieLike a recurring nightmare, almost every week in the media, victims of  serious medical problems are asking for donations from the Belizean population to assist with medical care. Many need long term life saving surgeries, cancer treatments, kidney treatments, or some major medical intervention. Treatments can cost upward in hundreds of thousands of dollars to a million dollars for effective lifesaving measures to take effect. It plays out as a desperate last ditch attempt from victims to save their lives; and in reality, the public could never realistically sponsor these cases unless of course there is some major overhaul in how we administer medical care to the public.

I recall my mother’s own plight with the Belize medical system. She initially received medical treatment in Houston and Canada because of help of her sisters but when she returned to Belize, I recall Dr. Pott telling my aunt that he would not “waste his time” to treat her (as he had promised the Canadian doctor he would) because she was going to die anyway. My aunt was devastated and in tears desperate for some medical intervention. It was the Belmopan community, her family, friends, church members and nurse Johnson, who helped my mother transition into the next world.

A few years later, my aunt lost her healthy baby boy at the Belize City Hospital, because she did not use the private hospital system.  Her baby had a healthy heart beat at the doctors office however, he did not practice at the public hospital and when she went into labor,  neglectful nurses were not around when her baby began to crown and the doctor who was expected to be there,  was absent. It was a series of unfortunate events.  The baby was perfectly formed except he was blue.  When I was pregnant, my aunt gave me money so that I did not have my son at the public hospital. She did not want a similar fate and treatment for me…my medical care was excellent.

About three years ago, my cousin Albert who was my age, suffered kidney failure. He was retired early from the Government of Belize with limited money; but he needed $4000.00 a month for kidney treatment. More money was needed for his treatment than what he actually made when he was working fulltime. He needed three dialysis treatment a week but managed maybe one and not weekly. When finances ran its course, he died of kidney failure.

Currently I have another cousin undergoing expensive kidney dialyses; she is no longer working and her finances are depleted;  her health continues to decline as she desperately attempts to save her life. I donated some money to her, however it felt like a symbolic act because it will not realistically cover even one needed treatment; she also needs three a week.

Recently Patrick Jones, journalist and long time media personality, is facing a fate of inadequate finances for life saving medical treatment and so he must turn to the public for intervention…I highlight these cases to demonstrate that we need a major overhaul of our medical system and we need to overhaul how we administer life saving medical treatment for all citizens regardless of their immediate ability to pay.

The private hospitals in Belize have found its cash cow and they are pariahs on society. Medical victims are in crisis and desperately in need of major medical intervention and doing everything to stay alive. They borrow, beg and sell all their assets and when they can no longer maintain financially, they die. The private hospitals with life saving technology will not treat anyone who cannot show cash first and foremost. Even more offensive is that tax payers money have played a major role in educating doctors and sponsoring private hospitals

What has the Ministry of Health in Belize done to curb this crisis? The entire  medical system is shameful. I would argue that the practice of treating a patient to the point of bankruptcy and then no more offends the idea of medical care. Should medical care be a profit driven industry ? 

Doctors in Belize seem to have forgotten their Hippocratic oath:

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.

I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.

I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.

I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.

I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.

I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.

Months leading up to elections in Belize, the unions showed their strength by demanding pay increases and even Uniform allowances and most were successful in their demands; however none have taken up the task of universal health care or demand that doctors who practice publicly and privately offer the same level of care regardless of ability to pay or place of treatment.