Belize City, Thurs. Oct 7, 2021– Last Thursday, Hon. Patrick Faber held yet another press conference on the basis of highlighting issues that he and the United Democratic Party feel Belizeans are facing at the hands of the PUP. The Leader of the Opposition assembled a team of doctors, namely Dr. Alain Gonzalez and Dr. Shanikka Arnold of the KHMH Covid-19 Unit alongside former CEO in the Ministry of Health, Dr. George Gough to discuss the ongoing covid response efforts.
In summary, the UDP is calling on the Government of Belize to take several measures, starting with the removal of Hon. Michel Chebat as the Minister of Health and Wellness. Further, the party is calling for more enforcement of the Covid-19 protocols, free and accessible covid testing for all, transparency in procurement of pharmaceuticals, immediate treatment for elderly and chronic patients, ramping up of the vaccination strategy, more inclusive structures for decision-making and execution strategies, reinstatement of social-safety networks that protect the “vulnerable” population, special support for families affected by covid in the form of burial assistance and transportation for infected persons, a guarantee for provision of best quality care and medication to Covid-19 patients, and provision of “affordable”/discounted services to persons with chronic illnesses who may need surgery and similar services.
This lengthy list of demands was justified by presentations made by members of the discussion panel who have pointed out several ways in which Belizeans aren’t receiving adequate care where covid is concerned. The first to take the podium to speak on a need to enforce covid prevention measures was Dr. Arnold who stated that the PUP has misled constituents with their vaccination campaign. She asserted that the GoB needs to revert to the previous measures instituted at the start of the pandemic under the UDP:
“Since the start of the pandemic, we have heard repeatedly to wear a mask, wash our hands and social distance. In recent times however, we have been taking these very important strategies for granted. As we watch our daily numbers rise and our death toll reach new daily records, it’s high time we get back to basics. These very basic but very effective covid protocols were first introduced to us at the start of the pandemic by the previous administration. And for some time, they helped us manage the spread. However, a year later we find ourselves not only battling a resurgence of covid but also having to fight off pandemic fatigue. Countries all over the world have reported increased incidents of pandemic fatigue, as people become demotivated about following the protocols set up to protect them and others from the virus. The blame however cannot solely rest on the people for getting fed up of curfews, masks, and social distancing. We were misled by the current administration with their slogan, ‘before you relax get vax’. While it is catchy, it implies that once vaccinated, we’d be able to relax or get back to some level of normalcy. But the truth is, until we are able to wipe covid from our population, we cannot afford to relax. When it comes to the very important protocols of wearing our masks, washing our hands and social distancing it is important now more than ever that we do not relax but instead follow these strict protocols if we’re going to effectively fight this pandemic, flatten the curve and return some day to a level of normal that we can thrive in.”
Dr. Gonzalez was next up to the podium and in his introduction he made reference to his experiences working in the Covid-19 unit, and on being appointed to the said unit four times. Dr. Gonzalez shared that the current wave of Covid-19 is the worst Belize has experienced and said he strongly believes we are at our climax. Further, Dr. Gonzalez shared that the KHMH has never seen the level of cases it is currently battling with, and he said he is perplexed as to why more persons are not going to get vaccinated. He also spoke about the GoB and covid testing which he says they should have taken better control of from the beginning:
“Testing is something that I think the government should have grabbed a hold of from the very beginning and see how they could have managed the testing much, much better. Presently, testing should be free for all individuals, all citizens of Belize, but it’s not that way. We have realized that many private sectors are doing testing while we understand that this is a costly measure to the public because not everyone can afford to do testing. The government should have never privatized testing the way they did because it causes a burden on our public. Testing basically costs $6 US. When that comes to Belize it is sold and for about maybe forty to fifty Belize dollars. And these private companies turn around and charge about a hundred and fifty Belize dollars for testing. But now I’m proud to say at KHMH we’re doing mandatory testing for all the patients who reach the hospital. The rapid test is like a home pregnancy test. It’s very fast – it takes about ten to fifteen minutes and it’s nothing painful. So, the testing that we’re doing, I would encourage the government to try and do testing as much as possible because testing is actually one of the key factors that will help us to prevent the spread of this disease.”
Dr. Gonzalez also reiterated the need to get vaccinated and made clear his belief that vaccinated persons should be enjoying privileges over unvaccinated persons by now.
Dr. Gough followed with a discussion on the handling of human resources, as well as the closing of institutions which have affected chronic and elderly patients:
“I was asked this morning to talk about another component, which is more a component which the United Democratic Party takes very seriously in its last administration, and now going forward. It is the way forward when it comes to how we are managing our resources when it comes to the Ministry of Health. By resources I mean both the physical and the human resources. I know for a fact that at this given time, even the physical resources are only the existing resources that the last administration left behind because of financial reasons that are quite obvious to every Belizean citizen – and obviously the human resources which are also limited. Basically, we want to say that we have observed in this third wave that there have been recent closures of our different health institutions. And we have seen that it has left out the elderly, the chronics and the public at large without access to the normal healthcare that they should be receiving – I’m not talking covid; I’m talking in relation to covid. And what that has done is that has created a vicious circle. Because most of the people that go to the hospital are not the twenty-year-old, not the thirty-year-old – are the chronics. The people that are forty, fifty and underlying condition. And these people are no longer able to access our public institutions because covid has taken priority. We strongly feel, as the past administration and the administration in waiting, is that we feel that the physical resources and the human resources could be handled in a much better way. And I’m not going to come here with a negative comment, but I would call them out on it. Because unfortunately you cannot value and demand from your human resources if you’re not taking care of them. A lot of them are working extra hours, overtime, not getting paid for it. A lot of them have been called in on promises on paper – not complied upon. A lot of demands have been placed in the different public institutions where the staff basically remains at a minimum level providing care that is of minimum standard – not based on what they provide, but based on access.”
Dr. Gough shared that some resources that should have been made priorities were deferred and certain patients are not receiving key, “life-saving” medications that they need. He asserts that instead the ministry has been investing in other areas outside of the medical sector which are not as important. He also referenced the burden that the KHMH is facing, given that certain services have been centralized, which has exhausted said hospital. He made mention of the point that all regional hospitals were fitted with Covid-19 units and centers while the KHMH is the only institution fit to deal with intensive care patients. Finally, Dr. Gough called upon the government to implement other measures to expand the vaccination campaign because having a 30% fully vaccinated population is still not close enough to where the country needs to be.
Finally, the Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Patrick Faber came in to tie up the presentations with a bow, reiterating the UDP’s call for free testing and better resource management. Faber also stressed that Dr. Arnold’s call to reinforce the existing protocols was not just to the GoB but to all citizens who are experiencing daily public interactions. He reinforced Dr. Gough’s stance that vaccinations are to be encouraged “everywhere possible” and stated that he has not seen any vaccination efforts being pushed on the southside of the city.
Faber then went on to outline one of his own personal experiences in getting treatment for his own mother during her bout with covid. He referenced the overcapacity of the Belize Medical Associates and mentioned that he had to take his mother to the Belize Healthcare Partners, which he attributes to her still being alive today.
“The professionals at the Karl Heusner do the best that they can do. But my point is what Dr. Gough mentioned. The medication and the high cost of that medication to save lives is what handicaps our citizens who do fall ill to the virus. Especially those who have underlying conditions. This is, in my view, very, very important. Antiviral and monoclonal treatment is very important. Some people might say Faber, you shouldn’t get into the details. But I am telling you, the monoclonal treatment for example that my mother received in that private hospital was very, very costly. And, not telling anybody that I am able to stomach it without a bump. In fact, I had to go to my bank and say I need to save my mother’s life. To me, it would have come at any cost, that is my mother. But there are people out there who do not have that kind of relationship with the bank. Who do not have any means at all to purchase the medication, because I am told from within the KHMH, if you want that monoclonal treatment or some of the antiviral treatment, they might allow you to purchase it and bring it into the hospital. That should not be the case with our patients. Those patients should be getting the very best care. How much is a life worth?”