Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Tourism and Health: Belize takes steps to strengthen its response to pandemics

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Three years ago, the tourism industry came to a halt when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the county. Belize’s Health Sector was put to the test, as relevant agencies worked round the clock to ensure the safety and well-being of the community and prevent mass fatalities. Fast forward to 2023, every day life for Belizeans has returned to normalcy, and the strict health regulation for the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be a distant memory. However, the tourism and health sectors were left wanting to learn from this pandemic to be better prepared for the next one.
Tourism and health are intrinsically linked, as demonstrated by COVID-19 and other infectious disease outbreaks that impacted the Caribbean region, including Belize. The collaboration between tourism and health protects the tourism industry in the face of public health threats, provided that ongoing proactive measures were implemented. During a four-day mission from December 4th to 8th, a six-member Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) team, led by Dr. Lisa Indar, Director of the Surveillance, Disease Prevention and Control Division, worked with relevant authorities to improve food safety and promote healthier, safer tourism in Belize. The CARPHA team consists of members from the Regional Tourism and Health Program (THP), the Environmental Health and Sustainable Development (EHSD) Department, and the Programme Coordination Unit (PCU). They collaborated with Belize’s health and tourism sectors to “strengthen visitor-based surveillance and response and improve healthier safer tourism and strengthen food-borne disease surveillance and build food safety capacity.”
During this CARPHA mission, the team engaged in high-level meetings with the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Ministry of Tourism and Diaspora Relations and their partners Belize Tourism Board (BTB), Belize Hotel Association (BHA), Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA), Belize Port Authority and Border Management Agency Belize) to further drive the implementation of the THP’s two early warning and response systems for land and maritime surveillance, the Tourism and Health Information System (THiS) and the Caribbean Vessel Surveillance System (CVSS).
The web-based real-time tourism surveillance system registers early alerts and responses. The web application will allow accommodations and private stakeholders in the tourism and health sector throughout the Caribbean to capture and submit illness-related symptoms and provide instant analysis, prompting automated warnings for monitoring and efficient response to prevent and minimize public health-related threats. Avoiding or minimizing the spread of infectious diseases will help reduce the impact on loss of revenue and reputation.
CVSS is an electronic system created to enhance the monitoring and response to gastroenteritis and other syndromes, COVID-19, and other public health illnesses on cruise ships and other vessels. Real-time alerts are sent to countries if illness thresholds are reached before the ship arrives in a country. This allows the country to be better prepared to handle the health situation.
The Minister of Health and Wellness, the Honorable Mr. Kevin Bernard, also participated in the mission and pledged to support the Ministry of Tourism and its partners in revamping a novel and innovative Tourism and Health Program in Belize.
The CARPHA THP and Food Safety Mission to Belize was made possible through funding under the Subsidiary Agreement between CARPHA and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) “Strengthening Public Health Capacities in the Caribbean Subregion,” the European Union (EU) and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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