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Dec 28, 2007

G.O.B. rolls out N.H.I. countrywide; critics condemn move

Story PictureN.H.I., for administrators, those three little letters could mean a political dream come true or another government scheme turned nightmare. But as News Five’s Marion Ali confirmed today, the Ministry of Health is convinced the plan must, and will, work for the benefit of all Belizeans.

Marion Ali, Reporting
More than two years after the National Health Insurance Pilot Project was introduced on the southside of Belize, this morning officials from the Ministry of Health and the Regional Managers of eight public sector healthcare providers signed contracts to roll out the scheme to the rest of the country. According to Minister of Health Jose Coye, the initiative aims to make primary health care available to all Belizeans.

Jose Coye, Minister of Health
“It is total nonsense to suggest that primary care is not the primary way to go, you have to begin there. And we were doing it for years, except the difference between now and then is that we were only reaching about forty, fifty percent of the population. And what is happening to us is that the chronic diseases, the chronic non-communicable diseases are increasing and that is becoming very unaffordable and costly and therefore we have to focus now on a universal access for primary healthcare so that we can reduce the curative interventions at the secondary and tertiary level. And that’s not just Belize, that’s the whole world doing that.”

Marion Ali
“And if I would ask you is this an election gimmick, your response would be?”

Jose Coye
“Certainly not, we are not in the election gimmick. This is not even for this generation, nor the next election for sure, this is for generations to come.”

As for how the plan will work, Director of Health Services Dr. Jorge Polanco, says patients will only pay a minimal fee to access basic healthcare and medicines.

Dr. Jorge Polanco, Dir., Health Services
“We have rural areas, whereby health centres or as we call them in the N.H.I. “satellites” that will form part of the P.C.P.’s will have physicians permanently, will have nurses permanently. Apart from the medical care that is being provided, something very, very new that will have a great impact is the availability of pharmaceuticals and basic laboratory tests. The point is that previously the mobiles that we used to have were very limited in scope; they were basically maternal and child health, geared toward pregnant women and children. But then you had the general population that did not have this medical care.”

Marion Ali
“Should people be concerned that there will be a fee or a charge when they get this kind of service?”

Dr. Jorge Polanco
“The answer is no. There is a co-payment, but that co-payment is symbolic, two dollars, but let me also say that if a person needs medical care and that person does not have the two dollars, he will not be refused.”

Polanco says people who already have non-communicable diseases, such as hypertension and diabetes will also now have increased access to their medications. But the negative publicity about NH.I. has prompted administrators to promise that the monies put in their care will be wisely invested.

Dr. Greg Garcia, N.H.I. Chairman
“This is one of the greatest things that has happened for provision of medical care to our Belizean people and we wish to have it on record that we will work very hard that as the new government comes in we rest assured that the monies for N.H.I. will be there, we rest assured that N.H.I. is here to stay, and we rest assured that N.H.I. is a good programme.”

The one year contracts signed with the public sector providers this morning are valued at approximately four point one million dollars. According to Minister of Health Jose Coye, on January ninth the Ministry will sign similar contracts with members of the private sector. Reporting for News Five, Marion Ali.

The public sector providers involved in today’s signing are in the Corozal and Orange Walk districts, Belmopan, San Ignacio and Georgeville in the Cayo district, and in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye. In a press release issued this afternoon, the Belize Medical and Dental Association declared its “emphatic opposition to the signing of the N.H.I. contracts” because “finalization of these contracts was done without reviewing the recommendations of the N.H.I. technical committee, an indispensable prerequisite to the clarity, efficiency and long term sustainability of the N.H.I.”

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