Belize Medical Tourism Association formed

The new Belize Medical Tourism Association seeks to promote medical tourism to Belize and eventually end the practice of Belizeans going abroad for medical care.

The association has members from the medical and tourism sector. It sees medical tourism as an opportunity for medical practitioners and wants more members of the Belize Medical and Dental Association to join. Foreigners have been accessing medical services in Belize for years but in an ad hoc manner. Now, Belize will be marketed internationally as a destination for medical tourism. Patients will be offered packages that include medical services, hotel accommodation and tours.

Belize is a tiny country with only 318,000 residents. The former British colony is very close to the United States, and as a tourism driven economy gets 918,000 tourists a year, two thirds of them from the USA.

At present it gets a few American medical tourists a year, mostly for dental work. To expand medical tourism it will need outside investors to partner the few local private hospitals by expanding, updating and improving their facilities. The limited state system will not get involved in medical tourism.

Belizean doctors generally come from abroad, some as volunteers to help the locals, and the vast majority work in publicly funded clinics or hospitals with very little time and resources for special care. However there are a few doctors that run their own private medical and dental practices, with some even advertising to foreigners.

The Belize government wants to develop medical tourism but Belize has a problem with violent crime, much of it drug-related, and the trafficking of narcotics to the US. Belize is on a US blacklist of countries considered to be major producers or transit routes for illegal drugs.

The government sees the only way of making medical tourism work is to encourage overseas investors to set up in the country, preferably as partners to locals. But talks so far have failed as the investors want to have total control, and to fly in US doctors as needed, which most local medical professionals oppose.

Most available medical procedures are cheaper in Belize than in the USA, but many locals head north into Mexico for treatment, where costs are even 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 at best. No local hospitals have international accreditation.

The Belize Trade and Investment Development Service (BELTRAIDE) has weighed the pros and cons of medical tourism to provide input before developing an effective national policy.

Despite all the problems Dr. Marcelo Coyi of the Belize Medical Tourism Association is positive; “Medical tourism will vastly improve the healthcare service of Belize. It will create jobs and strengthen the economy. A foreign investor in medical tourism is likely to partner with a local hospital. Money will be spent to improve the hospital’s facilities. That investor will then promote the benefits of receiving care at the hospital to their clients. Another investor in medical tourism may prefer to partner with a local doctor to provide care for their patients. A cardiologist in the United States would partner with a cardiologist in Belize to offer heart surgery to their patients in Belize at a cost more than ten times cheaper. Our local doctors will improve with more medical practice; they will be making more money, and the foreign partner will make a hefty profit as well. Medical tourism also makes the country more likely to keep talented Belizean doctors at home.”