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Belize Adds Medical Tourism to Its Offerings

belize enters medical tourism

Belize is well-known among tourists for its beautiful beaches, excellent fishing, Mayan ruins, coral reefs, and tropical climate.  But not for its medical care.

At least, not yet.

Plans are currently underway for this Central American country to expand its already-thriving tourism sector to include another industry that is gaining popularity across the globe:  medical tourism.

What is medical tourism?

Medical tourism, also called health tourism or medical travel, involves traveling to another country to seek medical treatment or health care.

Patients, often from the United States, Canada, or European countries, venture to international destinations where specialized or elective procedures can be obtained  at a much lower cost than in their home countries.

Some commonly sought procedures are joint replacement, heart surgery, weight reduction surgery, and cosmetic procedures.  Among the leaders in this $100 billion industry are countries such as Thailand, India, South Africa, and–more locally–Brazil, Costa Rica, and Panama.

Medical tourism dates back as far as the ancient Greeks who left the Mediterranean and ventured to Epidauria near the Saronic Gulf, which was said to be the sanctuary of Asklepios, the god of healing.  Many later Greeks and Egyptians followed suit, traveling to baths and hot springs in the name of better health.

The practice has continued in recent centuries as Americans and Europeans have flocked in increasing numbers to health spas and sanitariums.  Today, the medical travel experience comes complete with an agency that can arrange for all aspects of the patient’s trip, including airfare, hotel accommodations, and even the procedure itself.

What is the current status of health care in Belize?

While Belize certainly knows how to attract tourists, its health care industry may have some work to do before it can compete with even some of its Latin American neighbors.  The cost is certainly low enough, with a hospital stay running around $7.50 per day and laboratory fees hovering around the $5 range.

However, the number of doctors and medical facilities is limited.  There is approximately one physician and one hospital bed for every 1,000 Belizeans, one of the lowest concentrations in the area.  Both private and public sector facilities exist.  However, over half of them are located in the Belize City area.

With such a shortage of medical facilities and personnel, it’s often difficult to find services beyond the most basic care.  As a result, many residents currently travel to Mexico for anything other than routine procedures.  In contrast with the availability of medical care, the quality is quite good.

Many of Belize’s doctors were trained abroad and include volunteer doctors from countries like Cuba.  The country currently has no medical laws or regulations and requires no international certifications.  However, a series of reforms prompted by the Ministry of Health in the 1990’s has done much to improve the health care system overall.

What makes Belize a good candidate for medical tourism?

Among the tremendous advantages for Belize as it prepares to take the leap into medical tourism are its proximity and familiarity to the U.S.  Just a short flight away from hubs such as Miami and Houston, Belize is the only country in Central America that has English as its official language.

In addition to having doctors who speak their own language, Americans are also sure to be put at ease by the friendlier and more compassionate bedside manner of Belizean medical professionals.

Another benefit is the fact that most lodging in Belize already embodies an atmosphere that is very conducive to healing, being made up of mostly small inns with no more than a dozen rooms. This tranquility, coupled with the low cost of treatment and a feeling of home, are an excellent recipe for recovery.

What can Belize hope to gain by emerging into the medical tourism industry?

More investment in its health care system will naturally only continue to lower the cost and improve the quality of the country’s already affordable and reliable medical treatments and facilities.  The sparse density of hospitals and physicians would drastically change once the country began treating thousands more patients, and the availability of specialized care would also increase.

The plan promises a tremendous boost to the country’s revenue and the employment of medical professionals, such as nurses, technicians, and medical assistants.  This growth of the health care industry will also fuel the growth of tourism in general.  An influx of patients seeking medical treatment will generate the need for additional taxi drivers, hotel and spa workers, and tour operators.

What are the next steps for Belize?

While the push for medical tourism is being driven largely by the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) and the Belize Trade and Investment Development Service (Beltraide), both the Ministry of Health and the medical community are heavily involved in the planning stages.

A major concern is the lack of integration of Belizean doctors and health professionals, since the country has already been opening its doors to foreign-owned facilities.  At workshops held in the fall of 2012, doctors were assured that those plans and permits had been put on the back burner until the country’s own domestic plan had been implemented.

Among the first steps in the process will be decisions regarding the implementation of laws and regulations.  Hospitals will have to undergo the necessary certification processes, which may require them to modify some of their current practices.  Local doctors would also need to be trained in new treatments and procedures to bring them up to par with their competitors in the medical tourism industry.

Even those on the periphery of the proposed health care operations would likely be educated in areas such as first aid treatments and cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR).  Future medical travelers to Belize could benefit from the added peace of mind of knowing that even their tour bus driver and hotel receptionist could aid them in the event of a medical emergency.

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7 thoughts on “Belize Adds Medical Tourism to Its Offerings

  1. Lita Adeleye

    I am interested in medical tourism in Belize and Hondoras as well as Panama. Please send info on how to start business networking.

    • Christopher H Jung MD

      possibly interested in relocating to Belize after retirement-helping set up Otolaryngology/Facial Plastic and Sinus treatment/
      allergy practice

      • 3

        Dr, Kreegel I represent an investment group that has recently begun real estate development in Belize. One of our main concerns is having a basic health care system in place with the room to grow into a destination medical direction. We are developing some interesting approaches and we are looking for medical proffesionals local/foreign to participate.

  2. Drew A Kreegel, MD, FACS

    I am a board certified plastic surgeon fully trained in the US. Am interested in the possibility of establishing a medical tourist Caribbean destination for a cosmetic surgery center and medispa. Interested in learning more about the feasibility of doing this.

  3. Dan Walters, MD

    I am an US board certified pulmonary/sleep/internal medicine physician with many years of experience who wants to relocate to Belize from California; I would be very interested in participating in medical tourism in Belize. Please contact me and let me know how I can help.

  4. Becky norton

    I am a Registered nurse with 30 years of acute care experience and trained As an instructor of both basic life support and advances CPR I am very interested in more information on involvement in this medical sector

  5. 7

    I am an Insurance sales person from the USA “Ohio.” I have been to Belize two times so far and I LOVE it. It is beautyfull friendly, and I never felt like a “Gringo.” The fact that they speak English, and that their currency is simply 2 for 1 on the US dollar make it all so easy on a US citizen.

    If someone gets this up and running, I would LOVE to work in sales for a BZ medical opperation.

    Keep my name and e-mail [email protected] and keep me in mind.

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