Dr. Adrian Coye, Director of Medical Services at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital performed the first open heart surgery in Belize on Monday, July 16th, of this year. He performed a cervical revascularization on a 73-year-old man. Luckily for the patient, he did not have to seek medical attention abroad. Coye said that such a surgery would cost around US$100,000 in the United States. The patient, like the majority of Belizeans, would find such a surgery impossible to afford. Drafters of Belize’s medical tourism policy are hoping that the new industry will eventually end the practice of Belizeans going abroad and significantly increase the number of foreigners coming to Belize for medical care because, according to Coye, “that same heart surgery would cost a little more than $10,000 in Belize”.
The Global Spa Summit defines medical tourism as “a term involving people who travel to a different place to receive treatment for a disease, ailment, or condition, and who are seeking lower cost of care, higher quality of care, better access to care, or different care than they could receive at home.” Massimo Manzie is a consultant hired by the Government of Belize to help shape its medical tourism policy. Manzie explained that Belize is a great prospect for medical tourism. The country has already established itself as a top tourist destination and the cost of medical service is extremely cheap. Mexico and other countries in Central and South America are already players in the medical tourism industry. However, Belize has the opportunity to separate itself from the rest of the region because of its close proximity to the United States and, more importantly, because the country speaks the same language as the market requires.
Since Belize has passed the test for being a good destination for medical tourism, the main focus for Government is creating an environment where the industry will flourish. That means drafting effective policies to promote investment but also protect local service providers. In the last three months, the Belize Trade and Investment Development Service (BELTRAIDE) has engaged stakeholders, both in the private and public health sectors, to weigh the pros and cons of medical tourism and then to provide input on an effective national policy. The private sector participation was of extreme importance in the consultation phase because they will be the one most impacted by the introduction of medical tourism. Dr. Peter Allen, C.E.O. in the Ministry of Health, said, “The public system will not be players in medical tourism. It is the private sector that will be the driver of this industry.” Dr. Joel Cervantes, President of the Belize Medical and Dental Association, said, “We know that this is a great opportunity for us.” He continued, “For us, what this means is definitely much needed funds that our Government and people need for the development of Belize can come about.”
Medical tourism was once seen as a threat to local health service providers. However, a majority of health practitioners have learnt, with more information, that medical tourism investors do not compete with local markets. They introduce new ones. The private sector will benefit in several ways. 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 makes the country more likely to keep talented Belizean doctors at home.
For foreigners, medical tourism in Belize means an opportunity to receive care in one of the best destinations in the world while saving a lot of money. It is like being paid to go to paradise. For Belizeans, it means no more trips to Merida and any of the other destinations. Medical tourism features profit-based versions of the Dangriga Cancer Center- facilities that introduce medical services that are not common in Belize. Locals will be able to receive quality treatment right here at home and the money that is now spent on seeking medical services abroad will be spent here in Belize.
Medical tourism will vastly improve the healthcare service of Belize. It will create jobs and strengthen the economy of the country.