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Feb 28, 2023

Prison’s Medical Clinic Draws International Attention

The Belize Central Prison has been selected as one of eight entries in a global competition to present a paper on COVID-19 at an international scientific conference on the work the facility has been at its medical unit, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. There were over a hundred and ninety submissions made, of which only eight were selected. But even more important than that, Belize was the only country in this region that was chosen to make a presentation. The work of the prison’s medical clinic, which had to carefully manage the COVID cases on all three occasions when there were outbreaks at the facility, was what officials at the prison feel stole the attention of the panelists who chose their paper for the presentation next month. Today at the Kolbe Facility, head of the prison’s medical unit, Doctor Javier Novelo and C.E.O. of Kolbe Foundation, Virgilio Murillo explained what it is they do with their limited resources to keep their inmate population healthy, even through COVID. News Five’s Marion Ali reports.


Marion Ali, Reporting

The Belize Central Prison’s medical unit has turned heads in the international medical arena by the vast scope of work it conducts with the limited resources it has, especially when COVID-19 and its ravages made it into daily conversations over the past two years. Medical Officer for the Belize Central Prison, Dr. Javier Novelo explained that his submission was one of the lucky eight that were chosen for presentations in April during an international conference in the U.S.


Javier Novelo

Dr. Javier Novelo, Medical Officer, Belize Central Prison

“I will be presenting on a paper on F. E. T. P., which is Field Epidemiology Training Program in Atlanta, Georgia in April, it’s the April twenty-fourth to the twenty-eighth. It’s actually a global conference that’s done yearly where countries around the world compete with your scientific papers to present scientific studies to present public health issues, to prevent ways on how to manage public health successfully.”


So what makes the prison’s submission a big deal? The fact that there were over nine hundred submissions from all over the world trying to get their stories out there. And while our prison stands out as one of the chosen few, Belize was the only country in this entire region to also make the cut. Novelo feels it is the gargantuan efforts that they put off daily and his ability to encapsulate it in his submission that won the panel’s attention.


Dr. Javier Novelo

“It’s basically preparing to showcase your work – preparing to showcase what the prison has done. We successfully mitigated the COVID-19. It shows the work that we have been doing for years in the prison. We use inmates to help us do a lot of things here in the prison. And even though many times the prison is not the best news that you see in the media, there’s a lot of things that we do here with regards to rehabilitation, with regards to trying to train these inmates to have a better life when they come out of the prison.”


While Novelo feels proud for his clinic’s achievement, the success was not theirs alone. There were entities like the Ministry of Health, PAHO/WHO, and others that helped the prison to mitigate the COVID virus. When the pandemic swept through Belize, it caused three closures at the prison and visitations were suspended to stem the number of infections. Not doing so could have easily resulted in an emergency situation.


Dr. Javier Novelo

“We have roughly twelve hundred inmates. We have around two hundred and fifty staff, and here we have different illnesses. We have people with H.I.V., we have people with diabetes, we have people with asthma. I think I have a patient with cancer, and these require proper and adequate healthcare. Now, the health center that we have, which comprises of one doctor, we have some E.M.T. staff, some of which are inmates, they provide healthcare. What is unique about us is that during this entire COVID period, we had no deaths recorded and we had no hospitalizations, thankfully, even though we have inmates with, with chronic conditions here in the prison.”


Virgilio Murillo

Virgilio Murillo, C.E.O., Kolbe Foundation

“When an infection comes to the prison or gets into the prison, the likelihood of spreading and spreading like a bush is very, very high. I was merely guided by Dr. Novelo. I relied on his expertise and his training to at least indicate to me as the director of the prison, what needs to be done to mitigate once we have a positive case in the prison.”

On the day when COVID was detected behind prison walls, the number was not one or ten but almost a hundred. And that, according to Kolbe Foundation’s C.E.O, Virgilio Murillo required another level of management.


Virgilio Murillo

“One of the things with the prison environment is that it’s hard to social distance. This is a very congregated environment and a prisoner does not have any choice. They have to stay where they are housed, and if it is four in there or five, they have no choice. In one particular outbreak that was in 2020, I remember ninety-eight cases being recorded in one day. So that, that was a scare and we had to do everything possible to mitigate that spread. And in no time we managed to flatten the curve on that one.”


At the conference, there will be categories that the eight finalists will be able to compete in for awards in papers, posters, or pictures. The prison will submit three pictures that they feel best depict inmates and medics working shoulder to shoulder during COVID at their facility. Marion Ali for News Five.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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