I’ve been lucky enough to travel to some really awesome locations in the past few years. Every time I go somewhere new, I can’t help but put my health communicator hat on and do a little bit of investigating into how health care works—or often, how it doesn’t work—around the world.
Just last week, I spent six glorious days in Belize. It’s an absolutely stunning country, and I was fortunate enough to get to spend time in both the rainforest exploring the jungle and at the beach lounging near the sea. During my time there, I found myself thinking about a quote from John Green’s book “The Fault in Our Stars”: I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.” That’s how I fell in love with Belize. It’s truly a magical place, and it was absolutely good for my health, but that’s not the direction this post is going (sadly, perhaps!).
After returning from any trip, I like to reflect upon what I saw and what I learned, especially after traveling to another country. This was my first trip to Central America, but I was prepared to see the juxtaposition of opulent luxury afforded to tourists and the abject poverty of the people who live in the country in which I was vacationing. I experienced something similar when I traveled to Africa and blogged about my experience there.
Belize is a small country, roughly the size of Massachusetts, but with a population of a little more than 300,000 people. More than one-half of the population is living in poverty. Although the country has a well-established health care system for both private and public health care, the economics of a country so steeped in poverty means that the level of care provided to the citizens of Belize is often lacking. Belize City is home to the country’s premier public health care option, Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH). Beyond KHMH, each of the country’s seven capital cities has one public hospital. With a road system that often leaves much to be desired, traveling to and from hospitals in the country is quite a challenge.
While I was in the lobby of one of the hotels at which I stayed, I came across a book thanking the resort for its support of the World Pediatric Project. In 2012 alone, 880 children in Belize received medical services through the project. I flipped through this book, reading story after story about children who couldn’t receive the care they needed in Belize. In most cases, the care and services these children needed is routinely provided in the United States. They were heartbreaking stories with heartwarming endings. I was humbled.
We are so unbelievably lucky here in the United States. No, our health care system is not perfect. And yes, we still have a ton of work to do to ensure that everyone has the care they need. But as I sat in a place I considered paradise, the health communicator and health advocate in me took time to pause and be grateful, because our challenges could be much worse, our hills much steeper to climb.
Thank you Belize, for both your hospitality and your dose of reality.