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A glaring omission – a right to help in health/financial emergency

EditorialA glaring omission – a right to help in health/financial emergency

Mon. Oct. 2, 2023

If we are truly a God-fearing nation, as our Constitution implies, and it does say a lot about the rights of the individual and the protections to be afforded every citizen, then there is something else needed in our Constitution to provide some protection against financial disaster caused by a health/life crisis that any individual may face, young or old, where medical costs may “go through the roof”, and all of a sudden a family’s life savings are depleted and they are left to go begging the public at large for financial assistance to try and deal with the medical emergency. NHI is a great step forward, but apparently it is not well-enough funded to deal with the life/health crises that occur every now and then in our communities, where the type of specialized treatment required is not available except at very high costs. It still should not be the case, where precious life is deemed salvageable, that there is nowhere to turn but a public plea for financial help.

Part II of our present Constitution is dedicated to “Protection of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms,” which include: the “right to life”; “right to personal liberty”; “right to privacy”; “right to work”; freedom “of movement”, “of conscience”, “of expression”, “of assembly and association”; and protection “from inhuman treatment”, “from slavery and forced labour”, “from arbitrary search or entry”, “from discrimination on the grounds of race, etc.”, “from deprivation of property”; along with other special provisions during periods of national emergency.

But, where personal health emergencies are concerned, right now in Belize, “yo deh pahn yo own.” In these inflationary times, it has never been more true that “your health is your wealth;” and it is often the fact that “the rich will live and the poor will die,” simply because, while some have access to emergency medical care, others don’t. A case of a need for dialysis currently spells a death sentence for some of our citizens who cannot foot the weekly bill.

No system is perfect, and checks and balances are always necessary to avoid abuse; but something is missing in our Constitution’s claim of “right to life” when, for lack of health insurance, one major illness can destroy a family’s life savings and possessions as they try to meet the health care costs of their loved one. Not every ailment is a life crisis, and not every surgery or medical procedure leads to a family financial catastrophe; but the mercenary healthcare system nowadays demands some sort of broad-based social contributory program (an enhanced NHI, perhaps?) to provide support to those individuals who face such tragic health crises that translate into a health/financial emergency.

As a nation, and as regards our national health/medical system, we are not doing enough from the preventive side to help our people, and on the back end of expensive life-threatening medical emergencies, “it is what it is;” you are pretty much left to die, unless you are lucky enough to find enough hands joining in from individuals in the public to help meet the mounting bills. It is often heartrending to see what our people have to go through in these situations, which can creep up on any one of us. There is a lot we should be able to do as a nation, to provide support in these crisis situations, so that no one has to go through the traumatic ordeal and sometimes embarrassment of having to go beg the public for assistance. What about our right to dignity?

Belizeans are generally a loving, caring people; and many of us do what we can to help out each other in times of distress. And that is great. But there would be a lot less trauma, greater privacy, and more prompt attention in dealing with health issues, if there were in place a system to provide a financial back-up for these major health cases demanding expensive specialized procedures, so that financially distressed individuals don’t have to reach the stage where their only alternative is to seek financial assistance from individuals in the public. If the public at large, through provisions mandated in our Constitution, had put something in place whereby a special budgetary allocation is there to cover cases that qualify, Belize would be a much better place to live in, for all of us, those of us trying to stay healthy and those of us who individually try to help out as much as we can. It is said that “many hands make the work light,” and by sharing the burden as a population, individuals in financial crisis could apply to a special “health emergency” board for assistance with their medical costs rather than having to go through the trauma and uncertainty and indignity even, of having to go begging individuals or the general public for financial help.

Social Security is one thing; and it is doing a lot, but its major mandate is to protect workers from lost wages and provide a small but secure income upon retirement. Though it has provisions for some health financial assistance, that is not its chief portfolio; and besides, there are many citizens who for one reason or another have not qualified for assistance under the Social Security scheme. This is especially the case with individuals in the entertainment or sports arena, who may have earned enough money to survive during their active years, but were never contributors to the Social Security system, and thus do not qualify for assistance under that program.

Something must be done to improve the present situation, because it is not getting any better. It may be time for us to seriously consider some form of relief mechanism in these desperate situations outside the scope of the NHI or Social Security schemes, whereby an individual may apply for assistance in a major health/financial emergency as a right under our Constitution.

In the meantime, there are things we can all do, besides exercise, on the prevention side. While prevention is always better than cure, it is an uphill battle to change cultural norms or official medical dogmas. To each his own. If we were in a position to suggest a healthier approach to our daily habits, we would be preaching daily to our people to drink more water, eat as much fish as you can afford, and use coconut oil, even if you have to make your own, which is not that hard, with all the coconuts dropping from trees all around town.

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