What are the global health initiatives or priorities of Belize that you’ve witnessed while here?
When there are a lot of issues currently happening, it can be hard to focus in on a “priority” in terms of health care in a developing country. However, based on the house visits we did and the clinics we ran during our time in Belize, I can confidently say hygiene is a top priority health issue in Belize. Hygiene is a very broad topic so specifically, the water and food regulations they have in Belize are very poor. More than 50% of the houses we visited in the communities did not have a safe form of drinking water. This means they either get their water from buckets that filled up when it rained, or an uncovered/untreated well in their backyard. The kinds of parasites and bacteria that live in this water are extremely dangerous and can lead to a multitude of things like diarrheal diseases, GI infections, and much more. Water is essential to a healthy life and for things like handwashing and teeth brushing, but can do more harm than good if it is not treated properly before consuming. When in the clinics, my fears were confirmed when many patients complained of abdominal pain/cramping, diarrhea, upset stomachs, and many things that can be attributed to unclean water and food. The doctors were luckily able to prescribe many patients anti-parasite medicine, but unfortunately this is just a band aid for the bigger issue at hand. We did our best while working with the patients to educate on boiling water that has been untreated, obtaining bottled/purified water whenever possible, and trying not to let treated water sit and accumulate bacteria for too long.
A second initiative that I have witnessed while I was here has to do with pregnancy and breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is very promoted and normalized in Belize. The Corozal Community Hospital doesn’t even allow bottles in the hospital when a baby is born, they strictly enforce breastfeeding for the many benefits it provides. I think it is wonderful that women feel comfortable enough to breastfeed in public because it is natural and so healthy for the baby. Breastfeeding in public is still stigmatized here in the US, and while we were in the clinics, some women just breastfed while waiting in the sitting area. It was wonderful to see. In addition to highly promoting breastfeeding, pregnancy safety is huge here. I saw many signs that said things like “space your pregnancies” and “come get checked by your doctor if you think you might be pregnant.” Many women have frequent pregnancies one after another and it can be harmful for both mother and child. Many women also do not seek any type of prenatal care, which can cause pregnancy complications. Belize has a high rate of post-natal deaths and complications and I believe this arises from the lack of care mothers receive while pregnant. It is excellent to see that people are trying to help and make a difference for mothers and children in Belize.