The release of figures at the end of the year on health statistics is not a practice by the Ministry of Health; but in the Central Health Region Bulletin dated December 2015, some figures were released looking at various health aspects ranging from obesity to communicable diseases and infant mortality. The statistics coming out is a new undertaking, according to the Primary Health Care Coordinator for the Central Region, Dr Javier Zuniga, and is now being planned as an annual exercise. These figures released are only for the first ten months of 2015 and is limited to only the Central Health Region, meaning, the Belize District. What was alarming in the figures was the eighty percent increase in infant mortality which, according to Dr Zuniga, can be attributed to several factors.
Dr Javier Zuniga,Primary Health Care Coordinator for the Central Region: “For infant mortality we have seen in the past for the first ten months of the year a rise in infant mortality. I think it is from 16 to 29 cases, this represents approximately 80% increase. When this occurs it now becomes a public health issue which means that we need to act on this to try to decrease the rate. The rate is 19.8 per every 1000 live births which is approximately 20 babies die for every 1000 that is born. In the case of communicable disease we look at vaginitis that could be one of the causes of prematurity and the reason being that it so close to the amniotic sac near the womb where the fetus is located and it can lead to infections of the amniotic sac and then this can lead to pre-ruptured membranes that then lead to premature delivery. When we speak about premature delivery we are speaking about children born before 37 weeks of gestation so they are not fully term. Most of these children are also underweight so it is difficult, a very difficult situation in which the survival rate is very low.”
When it comes to the non-communicable diseases, Dr Zuniga spoke of the top five diseases affecting Belizeans although we do have some common ground with other countries around the world.
Dr Javier Zuniga,Primary Health Care Coordinator for the Central Region: “The top non communicable diseases we have hypertension being one of the diagnosis mostly seen in the population in Belize. This is followed by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease primarily asthma, then cardiovascular which includes other heart conditions such as heart failure or patients who suffer from congestive heart failure, pulmonary edema and such. We then have diabetes which we all know can cause severe complications and cerebrovascular disease which basically are strokes that can also occur.”
As it relates to communicable diseases, it seems there is major room for improvements on the angle of personal hygiene as vaginitis and gastroenteritis have made on the top five list.
Dr Javier Zuniga,Primary Health Care Coordinator for the Central Region: “Data here is representative of those infectious disease which means those that are transmissible, which means from person to person. As in all developing countries the two top communicable diseases include respiratory infections and gastroenteritis, those are the two top and that is for most developing countries. Alarmingly for us we have conjunctivitis and this is because we had an increase in cases in the first six months of the year and then that was followed by a decrease. The other is vaginitis which is basically the infection of the female genital track and the last one is scabies which is a parasitic infection and this is primarily seen in patients who practice poor hygiene measures.”
These latest figures have been gathered using the Belize Health Information Systems; an electronic system that is present in almost all public health facilities and is the main source for the data collected while the figures on infant mortality is backed up by the information gotten from Vital Statistics Unit. While these current figures are based solely on those who seek medical attention at the public medical facilities, Dr Zuniga says there is another report that reflects the combined statistics of public and private health facilities.
Dr Javier Zuniga,Primary Health Care Coordinator for the Central Region: “The data that we collect will be specified up to a certain date, in this case for this bulletin it was for up to October 2015. The data that we collect is primarily from the BHIS (Belize Health Information System) and it is strictly for Belize district and the Cayes. It is not a national data, that national data is collected by the Epidemiology Unit at the Ministry of Health. We have our own epidemiological unit which collects data for the Central Health Region only. This data is collected monthly and it is then analyzed by our epidemiologist who does a report every two months at our surveillance committee meeting and the data represents basically major health issues that are affecting our community at this point in time. This is an electronic file system which is a national health information system and is used in almost all public health facilities not at the private facilities. The data for mortality is gotten from KHMH directly from the death certificates of patients. We do not collect data in this report from private facilities.”
Reporter: So these numbers may not be an actual reflection.
Dr Javier Zuniga,Primary Health Care Coordinator for the Central Region: “We are actually about 80% of the population of the Belize District which is a majority representation of the population.”
Reporter: So are there any plans in terms of incorporating both public and private facilities ?
Dr Javier Zuniga,Primary Health Care Coordinator for the Central Region: “That is done annually and we sometimes collect that data at the end of the year and also do a report on it but the Epidemiologic Unit at the Ministry of Health also collects that data so private health facilities do send information to them and that is compiled at the end of the year.”
According to the statistics, one in every ten persons in the Belize District is overweight or obese while a figure of seven point four percent was cited as being underweight.
Dr Javier Zuniga,Primary Health Care Coordinator for the Central Region: “Obesity as I said we have a research team at Central Health Region and we decided that we would look at obesity because one of the major risk factors for non-communicable diseases, the deadly quartet which includes obesity, hypertension, high lipids, and diabetes and all of these then lead to what we call a metabolic syndrome. That metabolic syndrome basically starts affecting major organs; so the retina of the eye, the brain , heart, kidney and then it leads to complications and of course the chornic non communicable diseases.”
Dr Zuniga stressed the importance of women to take a pregnancy test as soon as they miss a period and if they find that they are pregnant, they are urged to seek medical care early in order to have the baby born in excellent health and thus reducing the rate of infant mortality. Of the infants’ death recorded from January to October 2015, ten of them were between the ages of zero and six days; nine of them were between seven and twenty seven days and ten of them were between twenty eight days and eleven months. Dr Zuniga also asked that we remind Belizeans that family planning services are free at all public health facilities including birth control.