MoH fails on promise to open 24-hour Polyclinic
Friday, January 16th, 2015
The Ministry of Health (MoH) and the Government of Belize have failed to deliver on its promise to expand opening hours for the Dr Otto Rodriguez San Pedro PolyClinic II. For the past six months, over $700,000 has been put aside to expand the services from 12 to 24 hours a day at the island’s only public health facility. The delay in expanding the open hours has angered island residents, especially since on three different occasions, GOB has failed to meet the deadline they have set.
In justifying the use of Venezuealan’s PetroCaribe funds, on November 18, 2014, Prime Minister of Belize Honorable Dean Barrow indicated that the monies are being used for several projects including expansion of the services at the clinic in San Pedro. Those monies, totaling a little over three-quarters of a million dollars for the first year, were approved by the Ministry of Finance and disbursed to the Ministry of Health. Those monies were approved based on the Ministry of Health’s recommendation.
No one at the Ministry of Health would accept The San Pedro Sun’s request for an interview, but a senior person at the ministry’s Central Health Region indicated that monies have been sitting in the government coffers since September 2014. Local authorities on the island then said that the expansion of services would be up and running by end of October 2014. In early December, Minister of Health Pablo Marin told The San Pedro Sun that the expansion of open hours would take effect no later than December 15th, ahead of the island’s peak tourism season. But it’s been a month since that deadline has passed and for the third time, GOB and the Ministry of Health have failed to meet their deadline. All indications are that the clinic will not be able to expand open hours in January.
Residents believe it is long overdue for Ambergris Caye to have a properly equipped public health facility especially because the island has been the country’s fastest growing community for the past 15 years. But despite the increase in population and being the prime tourism destination of the country while generating over $600 million in tourism revenues annually, the island remains without a proper hospital, and with a clinic that only offers limited services. The tourism sector has been very vocal about the issue in the past, fearing for a bad scenario that could be catastrophic for the island’s tourism product. Equally vocal and very frustrated are the local residents, some who have witnessed a loved one die at the locked doors of the clinic, awaiting proper medical care during closed hours.
Those affected are concerned that GOB and the MoH has been delaying in addressing the seriousness of the health needs of the island. But what is the hold up? Sources at the Ministry of Health say that the department is unable to attract professional workers such as doctors and nurses to come to Ambergris Caye. According to the source, the professional workers are being offered a similar salary to those that work on the mainland, without housing allowances to compensate for the high cost of living on the island. It is a deadlock having to do with a key factor – salary.
The island’s health needs have been a burning issue that has been put before three-term Area Representative Manuel Heredia Jr. on several occasions, since he is a senior member of Cabinet. In addition, during the last municipal election, one of the UDP promises to the electorate was the procurement of land for a long overdue hospital on the island. In the interim, they promised to have 24-hour health service available on the island. That promise has not materialized and the health demand on the island has grown since then. Despite repeated promises, government has failed to fulfill its promise to its prime income generator and its people.
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