Sign outside the Emergency Room at my local Belizean hospital.
The government owned and operated San Ignacio Community Hospital, a few miles outside of San Ignacio, BZ. That refurbished ambulance at the ER was donated by the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Florida last year.
The other, older ambulance in the parking lot up on “hospital hill,” as locals call the site.
Down below you’ll find a few snaps from the quite third-worldish San Ignacio Regional Hospital here in Paradise.
A Belizean waiting to see a doctor at San Ignacio Hospital’s outpatient clinic.
There’s a reason that the Belizean Prime Minister’s wife went to Miami for treatments for her long battle with cancer, and the Prime Minister himself went to L.A. more recently for back surgery.
For critical or serious medical care, it’s best to get out of Belize and get up to the United States or any other advanced country. Or, for excellent care for a fraction of the cost in the States, the medical care and hospitals in Merida, Mexico–not far from Cancun and hours from Belize–are world-class. Many Belizeans who can afford the travel or transport costs get up to Merida, or travel down to Guatemala City for very affordable health care.
There are some excellent doctors and nurses in Belize, including some of the specialists such as surgeons or cardiologists. The problem is that there are so many of the other kind. My Cuban-born internist (he’s Cuban blooded and returns for visits but he’s Belizean by marriage to a Belizean) is as fine a physician as I’ve ever had. He has a private clinic–a visit to his office is only $20 U.S.–and his wife has a nice, quality lab across the street.
But if you have to be hospitalized here in a public hospital, as I was for hernia surgery in 2012, be sure to take your own toilet paper, soap, towels, pillows, a fan and food to the hospital. Take all the above to the hospital or have someone bring it to you. They aren’t provided.
Hospital “food” here is served three times a day, but it’s not fit for man nor beast. Hospital ceiling fans never seem to work, so people take their own fans.
And what can you say about a country and government that provides almost free public health, but doesn’t stock its hospital bathrooms with toilet paper, soap or at least some paper towels?
A patient’s “supper” at a regional hospital in Belize. If hospitalized here, bring your own food or have someone bring you a decent, reasonably nutritious meal.
Oh–and there’s no such thing as a private room; in fact, no such thing as privacy anywhere in a Belizean hospital.
One can get considerably better care, and still dirt-cheap treatment compared to treatment in the U.S., at some of the private hospitals or clinics in Belize. Here in San Ig, for example, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church–which has some excellent hospitals in the U.S.–has a very good hospital–or so the expats tell me. It certainly is nicer and cleaner than any public hospital.
But, again, the best assurance of high-quality medical care is transport to somewhere out of this country.
The good news is thats it’s getting better, inch by third-world Belizean inch. Expats who’ve lived in Belize for 10, 20 or 30 years and more say the government health care is now excellent indeed compared to only 10 years ago, and vastly better than in the eighties or nineties when few people in the world ever heard of this beautiful but tiny nation. (With 300,000 people, Belize has tripled in population since the 1980s.)
BTW, the cost of my aforementioned hernia surgery–including the surgery, anesthesia, 72 hours in the hospital and all the meds–was under $300 U.S.
Plus the cost of my own toilet paper and soap bars.
The “isolation room” behind the main hospital was abandoned about as quick as it was built.
The walls in every hospital and clinic I’ve seen in Belize are practically wallpapered with signs encouraging mothers to breastfeed. And Belize me when I tell you that breastfeeding is prevalent here–mothers have no inhibitions when it comes to naturally feeding their babies in public or private.
BZ has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the world. Also a high rate of alcoholism (and deaths by alcohol poisoning and drunken driving) because of the high rate of beer and rum production, which leads to a high rate of domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault. Having many “social ills” just goes with being “third world. When in Belize don’t be surprised if you see some guy staggering across a road, drunk out of his bucket, or passed out in a street or sidewalk. It’s a sad and all-too-common sight. “
Back there is the social workers’ offices, just past the pool of water where mosquitos breed by the hospital’s open windows. But the windows remain open to prevent the spread of tuberculosis. No use putting screens on the windows because they’ll get stolen. So it goes in my world here in Paradise.
The tacos, salutes and other food at the snack shops outside the hospital aren’t nutritious, but at least they’re tasty–more than what can be said for the “food” served in any public hospital in Belize that I’ve seen.
Notice on a fridge in an exam room.
A view from hospital hill.
Until next time ….
Happy trails from mainland Belize.