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Safeguarding the health of tourists

Belize is a part of a project dubbed “Regional Tourism Health Information, Monitoring and Response System”.  The project seeks to strengthen Belize’s current tourism-based surveillance system.  In October 2016, the Ministries of Health and Tourism, and the Belize Tourism Board launched the project in an effort to improve the health and well-being of visitors to the country. The Caribbean Public Health Agency is responsible to monitor the progress of the project and with that came an evaluation workshop.  Dr. Lisa Indar is from the Caribbean Public Health Agency, CARPHA.

Dr. Lisa Indar – Caribbean Public Health Agency, CARPHA: “The idea of this program is to create a healthier, safer product so that we can improve on your reputation and ensure that Tourism is sustainable. We are implementing right now in eight countries many successes, Jamaica is a good example, Barbados is a good example where they are implementing they can pick up something very quickly before it spread, before it gets out there and you are stopping it, putting measures in place so that you don’t have an increase, you don’t have negative publicity, you don’t have lawsuits on your hand. Every country that works on this creates an action plan. It is our way of monitoring, that action plan has competence, advocacy, food safety training, using the system, policy and so on so we are going to go through the action plan as a way of following up with counties to say okay what more can we do. How do we advocate better, we heard the presenter who had a suggestion saying that he wants more training. When would that training be? When would we do it? We really want to come out with something concrete that says what do we do for the next few months, who is going to fund it, who are the players so that we are sure that we are moving with a definite action.”

Antonio Hegar, the Epidemiologist at the Ministry of Health, spoke about the ministry’s role in safeguarding the health of tourists.

Antonio Hegar – the Epidemiologist at the Ministry of Health: “From our end, the ministry’s job is to basically role out what is now known as the Tourism and Health Information System or the TIS. It’s a system designed to confidentially collect information on cases of illnesses in the Tourism Industry. Both from the side of visitors, as well as the side of the staff and other locals. The objective is essentially to have a more inclusive system whereby we can actually more quickly respond to any potential outbreak and by doing so ensure the continued health and safety of the country and as well the Tourism Industry. We actually have a list of signs and symptoms that we specify to the owners and managers and also the staff that we are to look out for. That includes for example gastro as you have mentioned but also as well neurological symptoms, symptoms related to fevers and other kinds of symptoms that could potentially be signs of something more serious. The idea is not necessarily for the hotel owners or the staff to make a diagnosis but more so for them to just indicate through the system that they have seen something related to health in terms of patients or the staff and we would then follow up and do whatever investigation is necessary.”

Sean Tang, the Business Development Manager at the Belize Tourism Board, BTB, explained that the program aims to build capacity with the hoteliers on a health perspective.

Sean Tang – the Business Development Manager of  BTB: “It is a symptom response based on if you have a fever, headache, vomiting or bleeding. There is a scientific calculation whether it is a high risk, medium risk or low risk. It prompts the hotel manager immediately that you know there is a situation at your hotel property. That system is in place, there are currently thirty-eight properties that are a part of this system and we want to encourage that voluntary reporting and registration from hotels which is for the benefit of each hotel property.”

Approximately forty hotels are a part of the tourism surveillance system. At present the program is voluntary, but legislation will soon make it mandatory for hotels to implement the tourism surveillance system.