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Feb 18, 1998

New medical center opens in Belize City

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It’s a phenomenon that is all too common in a small place like Belize. For years we’ve suffered with a medical system that, due to a lack of resources, is unable to provide an essential diagnostic tool like a cat-scan machine. Now all of a sudden, the country has two. Patrick Jones reports on one new Belize City medical center that today celebrated its official opening.

While it?s not necessarily a first for Belize, the concept of hi-tech medical analysis being offered by Universal Health Services Limited is loaded with potential to dramatically alter patient care in this country.

Dr. Victor Lizarraga, Co-Founder, Universal Health Services Ltd.

“It is definitely going to impact the practice of medicine in Belize because while in Belize we have very well trained physicians, we have been hampered by technology and particularly, diagnostic technology, so immediately it will give to the medical profession and health care the capability of diagnosing.”

The center is the brainchild of Doctors Victor Lizarraga and Atanacio Cobb, who joined forces in 1996 to tackle the severe shortage of adequate diagnostic equipment. One point five million dollars later Belize’s medical field has something that will not only save time and energy but will also lighten the load on our pockets as well.

Dr. Victor Lizarraga

“What we have here is a state of the art diagnostic center equal to none in the region. In fact we confidently believe that what we have here is better than what is in the region at the moment.”

The services being offered include cat-scan, ultra-sound and x-ray; but what sets Universal Health Services apart from others is that they are using the latest available technology.

Patrick Jones

This state of the art facility is only one half of an ambitious plan to make quality health care less challenging for doctors while at the same time affordable for the average Belizean.

Dr. Victor Lizarraga

“In spite of the investment that we have put in, we have made a big effort to make this technology not only become available but also that it can be used by most people. We have worked hard on bringing down the cost of production and we have a pricing strategy that will make it affordable to most Belizeans when you consider that what we have is really way beyond what Chetumal has, Merida or Guatemala, and you look at the prices compared to Chetumal, really and truly, I think Belizeans can be proud of what they have right now.”

One of the pieces of equipment that is in use right now is a fifth generation Seimans Cat-scan which for the first time enables Belizean doctors to get inside a patient’s head, without having to crack open the skull.

Dr. Victor Lizarraga

“What it does, it?s x-rays that are passed through your body and re-generated by a computer giving, reconstructing the image so that we can see them in two dimension and now three dimension. And you can see any part of your body. This is a technology that is absolutely essential for brain problems. But it?s also very important for other problems, especially cancer diagnosis, the lungs and the rest of the body and for diagnosis of bone problems, in the back problems; but it can be used for almost anything. In the past what we use to do is do our blood tests, whatever we could do here, if you need a cat-scan then you had to go to Chetumal, we might think that you have, suggest to you that you might have a brain tumor and immediately that puts a big fear in your heart. You start thinking about where can I get this cat-scan you have to waste money to go abroad, now that problem is solved immediately.”

As it did for this man, who was suffering from headaches when he walked into the clinic. A few minutes in the machine, a couple mouse clicks and a diagnosis is ready; the patient does not have a brain tumor.

Dr. Victor Lizarraga

“This is the kind of thing that we have wanted all along, now we have it. Cut out the anxiety, save you money because you don’t have to travel now and when you do have a problem then the diagnosis having been made, we can plan your treatment better.”

While the technology of ultra-sound is nothing new to Belize, the color doppler ultra-sound, is extremely handy for examining solid internal organs.

Dr. Victor Lizarraga

“Ultra sound, like you know, is sound waves passing through the tissues. This is a technology that is, I would say, twenty years old, it has progressed to the point where the sound waves that we see actually, we can actually see organs very accurately. We can now also see the blood flow in these organs. We can take measurements that previously we could not, so it has really enhanced our diagnostic capabilities as far as ultra sound goes.”

Also being pressed into service is a first of its kind mammogram machine that women will actually find less painful to use and which will expose them to lower amounts of radiation.

Dr. Victor Lizarraga

“What we use to do before, we use to take a picture, take two pictures then stick a needle in to where that spot is. Two needles to quadrant it, take a picture again to see if it?s in the right spot. If it?s not in the right spot, re-direct the needles in until we get it right. Then we go down and we biopsy where that spot is. Now just imagine the amount of pictures we have to take, the amount of radiation, those steps have been eliminated because right there on the machine there is a targeting mechanism that will pass right down into the breast where that spot is whilst you have the patient on there, one picture and you can taken that biopsy.”

For both doctors Lizarraga and Cobb, the opening of Universal Health Services is a dream come true. The full impact of their investment hasn’t fully sunk in yet. For them as professionals nor for the public which will have access to their services. Patrick Jones, for News Five.

Over the next several days the center will be host to a number of radiologists from around the region who will demonstrate the uses of the new technology to Belizean doctors.

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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