Belize Connections

What’s an example (or story) of something you’ve seen in Belize that connects with something we discussed in class?

In class, we talked a lot about what makes a successful global health initiative. While there are many factors that make it successful, one that we talked about in particular is adherence to culture. This means that all aspects of the initiative must involve and respect the culture of the group you are influencing. Their religion, rules, and beliefs are very important and most people will not be on board with any sort of change if it negatively effects their culture in some way. In Belize, we are “outsiders” to their culture. We come from a developed and highly industrialized country where the everyday issues and problems we face are far different than the ones they face in Belize. On a positive note, our advanced technology and knowledge of medicine is very beneficial to the people of Belize from a medical standpoint. However, on a cultural basis, we are not very useful or helpful. This is why we decided to utilize doctors that practice in Belize for our clinics. Dr. Trejo and Dr. Estrata are both native to Belize and practice medicine in the country. This means that they are very familiar with the customs and traditions of Belizean people. I saw a fantastic example of why this is so important on the first day of clinics in the village of San Joaquin. A mother had come into the clinic to get medical treatment for her and her 1 year old daughter. Upon first seeing the child, I noticed she had what seemed to be scabbed burns all over the edges of her mouth. When I was speaking with the mother and asked why she brought her daughter to see the doctor, she never once mentioned them. She said she was bringing her in for a cough and fever; two things completely unrelated to the burns. I was unsure of whether or not she felt comfortable discussing the burns with me, so I decided to just let the doctor evaluate them and didn’t pry. Once we met with Dr. Trejo, he looked at the daughter and immediately asked: “Oh! So I see she has been eating a lot of mangos recently” to which the mother laughed and shook her head yes. I was confused, but decided to let the exam continue and question it after. When the exam was over, Dr. Trejo explained to me that the children in Belize often eat fruit straight off of the trees. When a mango is picked fresh or had just recently fallen off the tree, there is an acidic juice that comes from its stem that can burn the skin on the mouth when ingested. It is a harmless burn that doesn’t cause any pain or discomfort. I was so amazed at this because if we had decided to bring doctors from the United States into the clinic, they most likely would have no idea what the burns were from. They might have done unnecessary testing, administered unnecessary medication, or came to conclusions that were wrong just because they don’t have the cultural knowledge that Dr. Trejo has from living in Belize.  The patient and her daughter were able to receive complete and accurate medical care in a timely fashion due to the cultural and medical expertise Dr. Trejo was able to provide. In addition to this example, simply speaking Spanish fluently and knowing the access various people have to medical facilities based on their location is very important too. He knows that if someone from San Victor is pregnant, they more than likely don’t have prenatal vitamins because of how far away they are from any hospital or facility. He is very familiar with the communities and surrounding area and can make assumptions on the correct course and type of treatment based on this information. That kind of knowledge wouldn’t be possible with an outside doctor from the United States. We learned in class how important culture is to patient adherence to treatment and cooperation, and this was proven every day while I was in Belize.

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