Nursing students learn by giving service in Belize

Tammi Bailey

On a hot and humid June 25, nine students, Jason Speaks, my colleague from the Westminster Campus Nursing faculty, and I arrived in Punta Gorda, Belize, for a 10-day service-learning course.

Our nursing and pre-nursing students and an administrative assistant for Health Professions at the Boulder County Campus were eager to learn about the free health care system of Belize and provide “hands on” assistance for people in town and out in small villages.

I’d like to share some of what we learned during our travels through this warm and welcoming country.

Our first day was full of lectures about the indigenous people of Belize, a mix of Mayan, Garifuna, Guatemalan, and Caribbean peoples, and their health customs.

The main health problems are hypertension, diabetes, wounds, skin problems, and malnutrition. Many people still use the abundance of medicinal plants in the rain forest for ailments.

The death rate for children under 5 is 25 percent, often from respiratory illnesses. Many of the thatched-roof homes are heated with wood stoves, leading to respiratory problems for everyone.

The government is trying to have all first babies born in a hospital, ensuring a good evaluation of potential future problems for mom and baby. Breastfeeding is encouraged to improve the health of babies, and most clinics are “bottle free.”

HIV is a severe problem and “safe sex” posters and free condoms are everywhere. Alcohol and drug use is problematic, but they have no treatment centers or programs available at this time.

We participated in a two-day health fair at the polyclinic in Punta Gorda, teaching hygiene, nutrition, birth control, dental care and checking blood pressures and blood glucose levels for 150 people each day.

On three other days, we drove over rough roads to rural clinics and homes to check on people.

A tour of the small hospital and polyclinic in Punta Gorda was very discouraging to us because of their lack of resources, but the nurses are cheerful and dedicated. Two nurses work in the clinic for hundreds of visits to the one or two physicians. The hospital has one nurse for a woman’s five-bed ward, a men’s five-bed ward, a six-crib pediatric ward and Labor and Delivery. Laundry was washed and hung on the lines in the back yard of the hospital. Very ill patients are transferred to Belize City hospital, several hours away by truck or car.

However, the people were warm and friendly. Laughter and children’s smiles are the same everywhere. Simple toys, stickers, and balls got games started right away. The Belizean government is trying to improve the access to health care while respecting the customs and cultures of its diverse people. We are very excited and ready to go back next year.

Please share your comments below.

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Tammi Bailey was the chair of the Nursing and Health Professions Department at the Boulder County Campus of Front Range Community College.

8 Responses to “Nursing students learn by giving service in Belize”

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August 02, 2011 at 9:16 am, Philip Prine said:

Do Belize citizens have access to health insurance? Is care better in Belize City vs. the rural areas? Do people pay for healthcare or is it government provided?

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August 02, 2011 at 12:36 pm, tammi.bailey said:

Philip,There is no health insurance in Belize for the masses. The government is trying to provide health care for all. At this point, it appears that management and education is improving. All treatment and medications are free once you have an ID card. Families in rural areas are trying to get ID cards. The government is improving services. It was exciting to see a developing country trying to provide health care for all.

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August 06, 2011 at 4:01 pm, Philip Prine said:

I am researching a development project in Belize and am familiar with their retirement program allowing people to retire there as long as they can prove they will not be a burden to the country. There are several sources which claim the private medical system is robust, inexpensive and is supported by an international insurance system. I would be interested in any information you may have regarding the private health system.



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August 11, 2011 at 1:23 pm, tammi.bailey said:

I have no information about insurance coverage, sorry.

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August 05, 2011 at 5:19 pm, Lora Kinney said:

I think this is wonderful. I have been on a few trips to Guatemala and Mexico. I am starting the nursing program Fall 2011. I would love to be able to do a trip like this. Will there be one in the future!!! Blessing to all that went and helped!

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August 08, 2011 at 11:35 am, John Feeley said:

Welcome to the Nursing Program, Lora. As future trips are planned, I’m sure students will be made aware of them.

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December 14, 2011 at 7:06 am, Dave in Belize said:

I’ve lived in Belize for six years now, and fortunately never had any need to seek medical attention.
My parents, who are in their late sixties, also live here, and well, haven’t been so lucky.
My dad fell off a ladder last year and cracked a rib and I must say I was VERY impressed with the emergency services he received at the Southern Regional Hospital here in Dangriga. Even though we are what the locals consider “rich foreigners”, we were never charged a penny for these services, although my parents made a donation to the hospital as it’s obvious they do need the money.
Then a couple of months ago, my dad had a SERIOUS accident where a large tree he was cutting with a chainsaw fell on his left lower leg and completely severed both bones.
They stabilized him very professionally here in Dangriga and were preparing to transport him to Belize City by the one functioning ambulance, where they have the capability to deal with such a serious injury, when two separate calls came in for women in labor.
So I transported him in my vehicle to the private clinic in Belize City where they immediately organized the surgery tam including the foremost orthopedic surgeon in Belize and reset his lower leg complete with titanium plates, hooks and screws. Total cost: $4,300 usd!!! (And again the public regional hospital didn’t ask for a dime!)

Anyways, I think the great and professional service rendered at the public hospital is a direct result of the ongoing training provided by institutions like yours….. keep up the great work!

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December 14, 2011 at 11:17 am, tammi.bailey said:

Thank you or the testimonial! I’m glad your family hd good care. It appears to me the government is tying to provide good, cost effective care.
I’m excited to go to Punta Gorda again and see how tings have progressesd.