One of the issues we never discuss in Belize is the issue of health care. Because of cable television, we Belizeans know that health care is a really big, very controversial issue in the United States of America. On the other hand, relatively few of us Belizeans know that national, all-embracing health care is one of the major, major accomplishments of the Cuban Revolution.
There was a point about a decade or more ago when the neoliberals in power in Belize reached the point of proposing that the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital be privatized. It appeared to me then that we were entering the realm of insanity as a people, because it was totally inconceivable how the masses of the Belizean people would be able to access health care in a completely privatized medical system. If I remember correctly, the Minister of Health at the time, the man Joe Coye, was one of those in Cabinet who resisted the KHMH privatization proposal. But, the mere fact that such a proposal had arisen, like the separate proposals by private Belizean citizens to purchase the Caracol Maya site and the Belize Barrier Reef, meant that there was something seriously skewed going on in and around the elected Government of Belize.
Every day Belizean families are confronted by health care emergencies which require them to make critical decisions, under great stress. A family member falls sick, and requires hospital attention or hospitalization. For the majority of Belizean families, the first move has to be KHMH, because the two private hospitals in the population center demand cash on the barrel head. (In this column, my focus will be on the KHMH, because I live in Belize City, but there are public hospitals in all the other Districts of Belize.)
The late Karl H. Menzies was probably neoliberal in his business philosophy, but he was an original and common sense thinker in many ways. He did more work to assist and improve KHMH than any prominent businessman I know of, because there was a medical emergency he had experienced on the occasion of which the KHMH, it was his opinion, had saved his life. I wish he was alive to give you the details, because I do not remember them.
KHMH is, of course, much maligned, but most medical professionals there are overworked, while the system itself, which includes the building and its facilities, equipment and machines, beds and so on, suffers from chronic underfinancing. It would be interesting to find out exactly how much money the public hospitals are owed in unpaid bills. The existence of KHMH as a means that public medicine in Belize is socialized, subsidized in its most important institution, most important because this is where most Belizeans end up having to go.
There are many cases in Belize City where families make their first move to one of the two private hospitals, then find themselves unable to sustain the recurrent costs. They then have to run with the patient to KHMH. There are other cases where the family is initially cautious, makes the first move to KHMH, then becomes ambitious or frustrated and decides to move their loved one to a private hospital. The people at KHMH are human beings. Such a move hurts the KHMH professionals personally. Then, in many such cases the families end up having to go back to KHMH. This is, in the words of the old serial on Radio Belize, “St. Christopher’s Inn, where no one is ever turned away….”
If you go private, a medical emergency can wipe out your family savings in days. Such an emergency can force you to mortgage your home. You can end up in debt for years. The key is, “loved one.” We feel we have to do everything we possibly can for a “loved one.”
Life is real. Money talks. Although all the medical professionals take this oath where human life is supposed to be more important than money and material considerations, we repeat, life is real. There are cases where money can save your life, or prolong your life, or make your life significantly less painful, significantly more confortable. Why is this? It is because some professionals are more skillful, more experienced, more trained than others in their field. Their fees are higher. If you want the best, you have to pay for the best. Straight.
I want to end this column by discussing the philosophy of the Cuban Revolution, which came to power on New Year’s Day in 1959. The Cuban Revolution has driven the Cuban people to train more doctors, per capita, than any nation in the world. The Cuban doctors are so many and so excellent that the richest and most powerful nation in the world, the United States of America, which has done a much less successful job of training doctors, has been actually and cynically offering incentives for Cuban doctors to defect to America. Well, to be fair, Uncle Sam has a capitalist system, and Uncle Sam pays for what he wants. So then, perhaps the use of “cynically” is unfair.
The philosophy of the Cuban Revolution was supposed to create a new kind of man/woman, someone who was more dedicated to his/her society’s wellbeing than to his/her personal, individual welfare/wealth. This was Che Guevara’s dream, and Che himself was a medical doctor who gave his life for the revolutionary philosophy in which he believed. This was, of course, an idealistic philosophy. And the Cuban philosophy has always been under attack by the United States, which practices the neoliberal philosophy. Neoliberalism is based on the belief that man is basically a selfish being. Perhaps the neoliberals are right.
There was a Cuban heavyweight boxer, Teofilo Stevenson, who could have made crazy millions had he decided to defect to the United States. He was, however, loyal to the Revolution and has lived his entire life in Cuba, in poverty when you compare him to the American heavyweights of his time. But, Mr. Stevenson, it appears, is a happy man. Can we say the same thing of Mike Tyson? Tyson went through the millions, many millions, but now he is broke, and confused. Life, they say, is what you make it. (After writing this column, I did some Google research on Teofilo. He was also an engineer. He won three Olympic gold medals. I found out that he died in 2012 at the age of 60.)
In Cuba, they have solved the age old problem of health care. In the mighty United States of America, they have not solved the problem. And in Belize, “Every day Belizean families are confronted by health care emergencies which require them to make critical decisions, under great stress.”
Power to the people. Happy New Year! Remember Danny.