Local doctors oppose medical tourism plans for Belize

 

There is growing controversy over the potential development of medical tourism in Belize.  The policies are currently being drafted and could open up the market to new medical facilities that may offer health care exclusively to foreigners. The problem is that the government is working with investors, but refusing to include local medical professionals in any debate or discussion. Medical tourism could hurt the pockets of local doctors, as it seems that American medical professionals will provide exclusive health services that are already being offered by locals.

In a radio interview, Joel Cervantes, president of the Belize Medical and Dental Association said that removal of medical tourism services offered by local doctors could seriously affect the viability of well-established institutions,“ What is very important to realize is that medical tourism, at this point for Belize, poses a threat as there are a lot of interest both inside Belize—powerful businessmen, very politically aligned—and also foreign interests with a lot of money and they are interested in opening up medical tourism. In fact, there are a lot of advanced plans; we know that there is a place in the Free Zone; we know that there are plans for something to go on in San Pedro, and also down in Placencia. The only problem, in our view is that medical tourism should first and foremost be a national industry whereby we, as Belizeans, local doctors, dentists, nurses and all health allied personnel, should be the ones that are leading. But we have been left out of the picture.”

Most available medical procedures are cheaper in Belize than in the USA, but many residents head north into Mexico for treatment, where costs are lower, facilities are better and more procedures are available. Facilities, equipment and doctors in Belize are in extremely short supply, so the range of available treatments is limited.

Belizean doctors generally come from abroad and the vast majority work in publicly funded clinics or hospitals. A few run their own private medical and dental practices, with some advertising to foreigners. A few people have visited Belize as medical tourists, often enjoying Belize's laid-back atmosphere as a great place to recover.

The Placencia Group wants to promote the country as a health and wellness destination for Canadians, Americans and Europeans. The five star therapeutic and wellness resort will be part of an acute care hospital at The Placencia, 10 minutes from Placencia International Airport. The company claims it has government support for the venture that will also offer stem cell treatment.

It seems that the politicians are planning to develop medical tourism, without involving local healthcare professionals. Mike Singh of the Caribbean Export Development Agency reports, “The policies are currently being drafted and will open up the market to new medical facilities that may offer health care exclusively to foreigners. It was discussed at a forum spearheaded by the Caribbean Export Development Agency and the Inter-American Development Bank. There are inquiries coming in from medical professionals abroad that are interested in setting up facilities. It is an area that has quite a huge scope for development.”

The reason that local hospitals are not happy is that under current proposals, overseas organisations flying doctors in from the USA would get preferable tax treatment to Belize clinics promoting medical tourism.

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