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Saturday, January 22, 2022
Home Editorial PUP must revisit PlanBlu health plan

PUP must revisit PlanBlu health plan

Former Director of Health Services (DHS), Dr. Michael Pitts, while a guest on the KREM WuB morning show on Tuesday, brought to the attention of the nation that the family of pediatrician Dr. Cecilio Eck have been fundraising, including selling barbecued meat, to help pay off the massive hospital bills he incurred after he was stricken by Covid-19 in late October. Dr. Eck was in a touch-and-go situation in the ICU of a private hospital for more than a week, and has only recently begun the long road back to full recovery.

Dr. Pitts expressed the view that our country should cover Dr. Eck’s hospital bill, and at the AMANDALA, we 100% endorse that position. At the least, the hospital bills of Dr. Eck, and all our doctors and nurses who have selflessly put their lives in harm’s way during the pandemic, should be borne by the nation.

Our most tragic loss of frontline medical personnel to Covid-19 has to be the deaths of Doctors Kevin and Kenneth Guerra, twin brothers, just 33 years old, who succumbed to the virus in December last year. There were candlelight vigils and horn-blowing as we mourned their passing, and later the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) renamed a polyclinic in Benque Viejo in their honor, but little has been heard about remuneration for their families after their huge loss.

Health workers are aware of the risks involved in caring for the sick, but pandemics are extraordinary events. Individuals don’t plan for them, because they are very rare. Much is still not known about the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19, yet they soldier on. They could have ducked out, but even while some of us have recklessly exposed ourselves to the virus, disrespecting the essential protocols of mask wearing, physical distancing, and sanitizing our hands frequently, and hesitating to get vaxxed, they have stood by us when we got ill.

We really have to “fix” our priorities in Belize. The cost of specialist healthcare is excessive and Plan Blu’s promise to “look beyond the public health service delivery system and seriously engage the private health sector” is not aimed at solving it. There is room for private healthcare, but no limit should be placed on public capacity to acquire specialized equipment and provide the most advanced medicines.

The PUP promised to roll out the National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme across the country, to all citizens, to collect $10 million in sin taxes to help pay for the program, and there was a promised increase in the Health share of the budget, from 3.5% to 5% of GDP. The PUP also promised to reduce the cost of medication and medical services through the establishment of “fair, competitive & transparent tendering procedures and (auditing of) the NHI program & Central Medical Stores.”

Some senior economists have expressed doubt about our capacity to sustain the NHI, but in the present structure, the initiative clearly isn’t intended to go much past addressing our problems at the primary level.

Our medical professionals belong on a pedestal. There’s a long list of them who have stayed the course with us. It is right for us to show our appreciation. It is also practical to remunerate our medical professionals well, because they are in high demand; they can leave us. We must pay our doctors well, because if we don’t, they are likely to become mercenary. If a doctor can’t afford to pay the high price of specialist care for themselves or their family members, it is natural to expect they will focus on extracting the highest payment they can from their clients, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet.

Our health system must be geared toward making the tremendous medical advances available to as many Belizeans as possible. As Dr. Pitts noted, few in our country can pay for tertiary care without breaking their family’s finances, and that’s how it will continue to be if we insist on the status quo. If we perpetuate this present system, one day we will all be out there fundraising to pay off massive hospital bills or, as thousands do at this time, might stay away from the hospitals if or when we suspect we have, or are diagnosed with, health issues that our family’s finances can’t cover.

The pandemic has exposed many weaknesses in our country. This one, the inability of most Belizeans to afford specialist care, was glaring prior to Covid-19. Splitting the DHS position might result in improved management, but that’s a Band-Aid where we need major surgery. Almost everyone in our country has to take to the streets cap in hand when they need specialist medical care. This country with wealth untold has to do better.

Keep our guard up

The recent repeal of the SI that disallowed sales of alcohol by shops after 6:00 p.m., coupled with the plan to reopen the borders early next year, could signal to some, especially in the month of December, that it’s okay for reveling. It is not. The easing of restrictions was in direct relation to the dwindling number of positive cases and reduction in the positivity rate, not a suggestion that we could relax our guard.

As Dr. Manzanero predicted back at the beginning of the pandemic, and Dr. Pitts said on Tuesday while he was on the Krem WuB show , Covid-19 is here to stay, and we will have to learn to live with it. The government’s move to open the Corozal Free Zone back in February this year was risky; one year later, all the numbers say that was a resounding success. We need more of that. The majority of our people are experiencing excruciating financial pain, and the only salve for that is to open up for more business.

Our biggest enemy at this time might be Covid fatigue. The younger folk particularly are worn down by the months and months of mothballing their gregarious side. The MOHW infographic shows they are a great deal less vulnerable to the disease. From September 1 to November 30, 2021, there were 25 deaths in the under-40 group, one of whom was fully vaxxed, and there were 192 deaths in the over-40 group, 40 of whom (21%) were fully vaxxed. Younger Belizeans are chomping at the bit; they want to let loose. For country and for older Belizeans, they are called to hold it down, just a little longer.

Belizeans, all, we have to do our part. We need to keep our country open for business, and for that to happen, we have to keep the Covid-19 cases down. We have to stay the course. We must keep up our guard.

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