Belize's Public Healthcare: Patients Struggle to Access Medicines Despite Fee Removal

Belize's Public Healthcare: Patients Struggle to Access Medicines Despite Fee Removal

Mon, 11/06/2023 - 20:47
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Belize City: Monday 6th November 2023

In a groundbreaking move, the Belizean government recently eliminated all fees at public healthcare facilities, making medical services accessible to all citizens regardless of their financial situation. However, behind the scenes, the reality for patients remains far from ideal, with many struggling to obtain the medicines they need, even after visiting these supposedly free healthcare centers.

Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH), the country's sole referral hospital, stands at the forefront of Belize's healthcare system. However, beneath its façade lies a healthcare system riddled with challenges. KHMH, although crucial for tertiary care, lacks the resources, specialists, and modern medical equipment necessary to meet the growing demands of the Belizean population.

One glaring issue is the shortage of onsite specialists. Patients who turn to KHMH for specialized medical attention often face long waiting times and limited options. Many are forced to seek treatment abroad or turn to private healthcare providers to receive the care they desperately need.

Additionally, KHMH's mental health facilities are far from adequate. The hospital lacks a dedicated ward for mental patients, and resources for the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions are woefully insufficient. As a result, individuals in need of psychiatric care are often left without appropriate medical attention, their conditions deteriorating further.

Another concerning issue that patients encounter is the need to purchase their prescribed medicines independently. Despite the removal of fees for medical services, patients must still dig into their pockets to acquire essential medications. This additional financial burden undermines the government's efforts to make healthcare more accessible and affordable for all Belizeans.

A recent case in Orange Walk Town highlights the challenges patients face. One expectant mother shared her experience of visiting the NRH (Northern Regional Hospital), where she found herself using the same strip of IV tape for two days due to its scarcity. Furthermore, the hospital's pharmacy was unable to provide necessary medications, leaving her husband to purchase them at a local pharmacy for a hefty $70.

Patients like her are left questioning the effectiveness of the fee removal policy when they still bear the financial burden of purchasing medicines and essential supplies.

While the Belizean government has taken a commendable step by removing healthcare fees, it is clear that more comprehensive reforms are needed. Adequate funding, investment in modern medical equipment, the recruitment of specialized medical professionals, and improved mental healthcare facilities are all essential components of a robust healthcare system. Additionally, addressing the issue of patients having to purchase their prescribed medicines should be a priority to ensure that accessible healthcare is genuinely affordable for all Belizeans.

As the government seeks to expand National Health Insurance (NHI) services across the country, it is crucial to address these underlying issues to provide comprehensive and equitable healthcare services to all citizens, ultimately creating a healthier and more prosperous Belize for everyone.