Photo: Dr. Melissa Diaz -Musa, Director of Public Health and Wellness, MoHW
by Kristen Ku
BELIZE CITY, Mon. Dec. 4, 2023
The Ministry of Health and Wellness in Belize, in conjunction with the Ministry of Tourism and the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), on November 4, introduced an innovative program to protect the health of tourists and locals alike.
The program involves the deployment of a Regional Tourism and Health Information System, which will serve as a surveillance system to detect early signs of infectious diseases that could potentially lead to outbreaks.
“We know that in Belize, tourism is one of our main economic drivers, and we need to ensure that persons are comfortable, that persons are healthy and well when they visit our country,” stated Dr. Melissa Diaz-Musa, Director of Public Health and Wellness, during a launch event held at the Biltmore Hotel in Belize City.
The system is designed to collect health data from the tourism sector and feed it into the Ministry’s national epidemiology unit for swift action. Hotel managers will play a crucial role by entering information when a tourist or local falls sick, which will then be evaluated by surveillance officers for necessary intervention.
By noting and recording health issues early on, the Health Ministry aims to prevent outbreaks and ensure that tourists have access to medical guidance and care.
The program also includes comprehensive capacity building, with training in food safety and the management of infectious diseases, certified by the National Restaurant Association in the U.S., and includes participation from multiple sectors, including the Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA).
So far, 197 hotels have signed up to utilize the system, but there’s an ongoing effort to boost its actual use through fieldwork, support, and mentoring for the hotels.
The Ministry of Health and Wellness, spearheaded by Dr. Diaz-Musa and Principal Public Health Inspector, John Bowden, is actively conducting a series of training sessions and meetings with key stakeholders, including the Belize Tourism Industry Association and the Belize Hotel Association.
Dr. Lisa Indar, the Director of Disease Surveillance, Prevention, and Control at CARPHA, noted the success of similar initiatives across the Caribbean, and stressed the importance of such programs in larger countries like Belize, which, unlike smaller islands, have extensive land borders that present unique health security challenges.