The Barrow administration failed at putting together a clear strategic plan to attack the Covid-19 pandemic in Belize. This is according to the recently appointed Minister of Health and Wellness Michel Chebat. Fifteen days into a new administration and the preliminary findings are daunting in some corners. In the area of health Minister Chebat says he has found the ministry to be lacking human resources, proper equipment and machinery and a budget that was significantly cut by forty percent. The Minister hosted a press conference this morning where he spoke of the things they will need to correct if they are to succeed at flattening the curve for Covid-19.
Michel Chebat, Minister of Health and Wellness: “People being tested are not being given their results in time, this has contributed to the spread of COVID. Despite a clear offer from BAHA and the IAEA in April to assist with PCR testing to the MOH this offer was no taken up. Our government hospitals are not fully ready to deal with a surge in cases should the need arise, this is despite the fact that the MOH had ample time to rectify and address these gaps. The Ministry of Finance reduced the budget for all ministries including MOH by 40% and this is despite the fact that MOH is required to respond to the pandemic. Overtime for healthcare workers was cut, there were restrictions placed on the hiring of staff, there are limited masks and PPEs for healthcare workers. There was a lull during the lockdown for approximately one month where there were no cases reported. The previous administrations should have used this time to develop a clear strategic plan to deal with the pandemic and to equip hospital and healthcare workers with the needed supplies and this is compounded by the shortages of doctors, nurses, testing equipment, etcetera.”
Chebat says things will see a drastic turnaround with an approved fifteen million dollars to be injected into the ministry earmarked to right the wrongs in the health system. The Minister was uncertain as to the source of the funding but did indicate that the approval has been given by Cabinet and the Ministry of Finance.
Michel Chebat, Minister of Health and Wellness: “An approval was given for the injection of $15 million dollars into the system. The plan moving forward includes the immediate implementation and scale up of the use of rapid tests in all district hospitals with clear testing protocols. All regional and community hospitals are now conducting rapid tests. We shall be expanding test sites throughout the country and those sites will include: In Orange Walk we shall have stationary clinics at the People’s Stadium, Louisiana area, Blue Creek, August Pine Ridge, San Felipe, Guinea Grass and San Pablo and those will be in addition to mobile clinics which will be in San Carlos, Indian Church, Trinidad, San Lazaro, Yo Creek, Fire Burn, Ship Yard, San Antonio, Trial Farm, Chan Pine Ridge, Carmelita, Santa Martha, San Jose Palmar, San Estevan, Douglas, Nuevo San Juan and San Luis. In Independence we will have at Bella Vista as well an Independence. Additionally we will have mobile clinics in Placencia, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, Red Bank, San Juan, Trio and those are going to be the clinics that we’re gonna be for the priority areas at this moment in time. As we move along testing sites will be added to these. You can also expect to have shortly from the MOH – MOHW now – a schedule of when the mobile clinics will be visiting the distinct areas. Additionally with the new implementation of the rapid testing in the information that is being shared with the public you can expect to see rises in numbers of positive tests and the explanation for that is a very basic one; up to now the results the information being shared is based solely on the PCR test. Now that the rapid tests are implemented that information will be added to that infographic. We also intend to hire additional laboratory technicians, lab aides, data entry clerks. We will hire additional contact tracers, there will be active surveillance by the Ministry of Health teams at private businesses and we will urgently procure supplies and consumables for the extraction machine as well as an additional extraction machine. In terms of addressing the surge capacity for our hospitals we intend to hire additional doctors, nurses, specialist support staff for deployment to all of our regions and community hospitals. We will seek approval of over time for all of our essential staff, for general practitioners, registered nurses, nursing assistants, midwives, operating room staff and specialists. Approval will be sought for increased oxygen procurement due to the increased demand as a result of the COVID-19. On average two tanks per patient per day is being used. Approval for the additional medical equipment and supplies that include will be sought and that is not going to be limited to portable ultrasound, infusion pumps, patient monitors, thermometers and other lab and hospital consumables.”
With the plan to make rapid testing available at mobile sites in rural areas this will significantly increase the testing rate. Minister Chebat cautioned the public to not be alarmed when the increased testing appears on the daily infographics from the ministry.
Michel Chebat, Minister of Health and Wellness: “Additionally with the new implementation of the rapid testing in the information that is being shared with the public you can expect to see rises in numbers of positive tests and the explanation for that is a very basic one; up to now the results, the information being shared is based solely on the PCR tests. Now that the rapid tests are implemented that information will be added to that infographic.”