Dr. Wayne Trebbin, president of the Massachusetts-based World Organization for Renal Therapy (WORTH), and Belize Health Minister Pablo Marin this morning penned their signatures to a Memorandum of Understanding – first drafted almost 10 months ago in August 2009 – for the establishment of dialysis centers at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH), a public hospital in Belize City, and La Loma Luz Adventist Hospital, a non-profit hospital in San Ignacio, Cayo.
What this means is that, should all go as planned, patients who cannot afford to pay for private treatment and who are not getting all the sessions they need under the government-subsidized program with the Belize Health Care Partners (BHPL) would get the treatment or treatments they require.
Trebbin wrote Belize with a formal request on March 23, 2009, and after several months of back and forth between the parties, trying to sort out the fundamentals of the program, they were finally able to sign the MoU Thursday, June 3.
The leading advocate for the program, dialysis patient Jose Cruz, a self-sacrificing fighter for the cause, blind and in a wheelchair, was recognized as a “hero” today by Loma Luz administrator Grant McPherson.
“When I first talked to Dr. Trebbin,” said Cruz, “he thought it was a hoax. He said, ‘Mr. Cruz, I got three calls from you and I didn’t answer you, because I thought it was somebody from Arkansas calling me and teasing.’ I don’t think he realized how serious I was.”
Cruz, who was not included on the program of speakers for the MoU signing, was granted his request to make some remarks at the event.
Jose Cruz had last year been castigated for blowing the warning trumpet last October, when he came to the media concerned that Belize would lose the opportunity to get the WORTH project, because officials in the Ministry of Health were not meeting agreed deadlines. Those questions and concerns about the Ministry of Health’s commitment to the program were assuaged when the parties made their formal declaration to the cause.
As Cruz noted, however, this is just step one; and there are more commitments to meet before the program actually kicks off.
“What I’m asking for is the best quality care for all Belizeans. Today I am here, tomorrow I might die, but what we have accomplished today I would like to see go on,” Cruz appealed.
Although Health CEO Dr. Peter Allen – missing from today’s event – had previously announced April 2010 as the start date for the program, the new timeline is said to be September. By that time, 21 machines supplied by WORTH should be in Belize.
“This is a matter of life and death for me. You know today I should have been in the Belmopan Hospital, admitted, but I said, ‘I’ll take my chances. It didn’t really matter, I needed to be here,’” said Cruz.
(Right after the ceremony, he had to be rushed to the KHMH for treatment, because of his heart condition.)
“I have 27 other patients with me at BHPL that are getting dialysis today, and I know that there’s about 13 of them that are getting one (1) dialysis paid for and that are in a situation I was in 3½ years ago for 11 months before we lobbied and got the government to commit to the initial program of paying for 21 patients,” Cruz added.
He also commended Prime Minister Dean Barrow and his Cabinet for the efforts to build the current dialysis program.
“Sometimes, my friend, in adversity, when you feel it, you know it. Well, all these patients out here are my friends, and I would like to urge them to take a little time out and say, ‘Hey! Nobody needs to die needlessly. Everybody wants to live.’”
Health Minister Pablo Marin, in his keynote remarks, called today’s ceremony an “important milestone.”
“Dialysis, renal failure, end stage kidney disease – these are complicated challenges which perplex many of my ministerial colleagues throughout the Caribbean and Latin America,” Marin commented, adding that they are happy about the important partnership with WORTH.
WORTH’s Wayne Trebbin said that he wants quality dialysis to be accessible to everyone, regardless of financial wellbeing or lack thereof.
The first WORTH dialysis program, he said, was set up in Cameroon, Africa: “Death stalks that country. People die very young there. It is simply a tragedy!”
After helping to set up the dialysis program in Cameroon, he explained, WORTH participated in operations there for three years, having daily contact with locals, at first via web cam.
“Our goal is to build units, create sustainability and then remain available, but to hand it over to the local authority. That’s what we’re going to do in Belize too…” said Trebbin. “Where we’ll go next? Who knows.”