Editorial — 24 May 2013

The areas which experts examine in a society to assess that society’s level of progress or development, are housing, health, education, infrastructure, and so on. Health is always an area of primary concern, and it is an area where the serious inequality among citizens in certain societies can be exposed in dramatic and traumatic ways.

One of the key measuring sticks of a nation’s health system is its infant mortality rate. The fact that the Cuban Revolution has reduced Cuba’s infant mortality rate to one of the absolute lowest in the world, is an undeniable badge of honor for that Revolution. There are people like the American government and the Cuban exiles who condemn the Cuban government as a communist dictatorship. But those Cuban parents who benefit from Cuba’s free, yet world-class, health care system no doubt have a different perspective.

Recent negative developments where Belize’s infant mortality rate are concerned, expose the fact that our democratic, free market system of politics and economics is failing where health care for the masses of the Belizean people is concerned. For several months the nation had been hearing of infant mortality problems in Orange Walk Town’s Northern Regional Hospital, but the cases were individual, and Orange Walk Town is not a media and population center. When news broke this week of multiple infant mortalities, a veritable cluster in fact, at the largest public hospital in the nation, Belize City’s Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital, public reaction has been near panic.

One of the reasons why parents sacrifice for their children to become doctors is that medicine is an almost sacred profession. At the same time, we live in a material world where prestige is usually based on your income and your bank account. So that, while the Hippocratic oath suggests that doctors should place healing ahead of remuneration, the investments in money and time which enable people to become doctors are enormous. That is why when you have to go to a medical specialist for attention, the costs are high. That doctor may have spent twelve, fifteen years in medical schools and internships acquiring that level of skill and qualification which prompted you to trust him/her and place your confidence in him/her. Health is serious business, and medicine is serious business. We’re talking real life and real death here.

Health care is no dibby-dibby PUDP subject. Health care is a humanitarian issue. If medicine here were all privatized, as the neoliberals in Belize proposed in the early third millennium, many poor Belizeans would die, and many more would suffer. In fact, in those classic bastions of free market capitalism in Europe and Great Britain, health care is socialized, which is to say, government subsidizes most of it, because even their relatively rich citizens require financial assistance with health care.

Party politics in Belize brought cronyism along with it. This means that every area of government where there is a budget, cronies of the ruling party seek the contracts for delivery of service and supplies, in return for which the cronies donate to the relevant political party. In Belize, there is a huge national budget for health. There is cronyism and corruption in the Ministry of Health. What cronyism and corruption do is damage the morale of the workers in the system who see the games being played.

When poor Belizeans go to the KHMH for attention, they don’t realize the problems which such a government-owned institution faces in a privatized society. Everyone who can afford it, goes first to one of the two private hospitals in the old capital. When their money runs out, they have to be carried to the KHMH. How do you think the doctors, nurses, and staff at KHMH feel? When you had money you went elsewhere. Now you are broke, so you bring your problems here to us to solve.

Money can save your life in Belize. Poverty can kill you in Belize. We live in a socio-economic system where the more money you have, the more rights you have. Nowhere is this more dramatically evident than at the private hospitals. They demand their money up front, no matter how critically ill you are. When your money runs out, they will put you out on the sidewalk. KHMH, on the other hand, is like St. Christopher’s Inn, “where no one is ever turned away….”

So then, we need KHMH in the worst kind of way. And, we want KHMH to improve. The problem is, each and every day far more money per patient goes into the private hospitals than goes into KHMH. It is impossible for KHMH to provide the same quality services which the private hospitals do, because our society is about money. And the money doesn’t go to KHMH: it goes to the two private hospitals.

It is what it is. It may be that we are fortunate we have not had more of these cluster emergencies, and worse ones. The system is designed this way, for KHMH to be inferior and struggling. What we see, is what we get. Babies have to die and mothers have to cry before anyone pays any real attention. In the matter of health care for the masses of our citizens, this Jewel is bleeding …

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