Several years ago, I was approached about going on a medical mission trip to Belize. It was something I had thought about before, but had never done. I did not know what to expect, in terms of disease processes I would encounter and how the locals would receive me. I quickly fell in love with the people of Belize and realized that there was not much difference between their medical needs and those I saw every day in Bryant. I did clinic four days of the week and saw about 100 patients daily, most of whom needed treatment for diabetes, osteoarthritis and hypertension.
I have since returned to Belize on three separate occasions in the last two years. Each of those trips we did clinic in Ontario, a village of 3,000 about an hour outside the capital city of Belmopan. We set up in a local church in the middle of the village. Clinic typically started around 9 AM, and many people stood in line far in advance, waiting to be seen.
In general, since the men work long hours, our patients consist of a steady flow of mostly women and children. The majority need maintenance medications while others visit for cough- and cold-type symptoms. A small number of residents from Guatemala speak only Spanish and require an interpreter, but most speak English, so visits go smoothly.
Belize has universal health care provided by the government. But while treatment is available to them, most residents say that the level of care is not good. If they have money, they will go to a private hospital instead. Although they can access care, only some can get to a provider on a regular basis.
Most residents of Ontario do not have vehicles, so they are reliant on public bus transportation to get to the closest provider, which is in Belmopan. Unfortunately, most do not have the money to take a bus regularly. When they can get a bus ride to a clinic, they are still unable to get their medications sometimes due to a lack of supply. Since much of Belize is rural, many of these areas have limited access to care. But even the greater accessibility of healthcare provided by city life does not present much advantage, since the quality of care is so low.
Last year, I decided to take my whole family with me to allow them to help with clinic. They were all involved with every patient by helping with intake and pharmacy. It was an incredible experience for my family and me. As well as doing clinic in Ontario, we also did a clinic at a nonviolent offender youth prison, offering wellness visits to the residents at the facility.
We plan to return to Ontario this spring to do another clinic. My entire family will accompany me once again. Our plan is to do clinic in Ontario for four days. I look forward to reuniting with those whom I have seen many times, as well as to meeting new patients now able to come see us.
We are bringing about 300 pounds of medications, both prescription and over the counter. Bryant Family Pharmacy was kind enough to donate the prescription medications that we are taking with us.
Ontario’s water quality has historically been very poor. Residents inevitably incur great expense to themselves in purchasing bottled water. While doing clinic in Ontario this trip, some members of our group will finish a well to supply clean, affordable water both to the high school on the church’s property and to the village of Ontario. This well will significantly help the community by reducing their expenses. Additionally, we have always had to give out anti-parasitic meds to almost every patient while doing clinic; we hope that providing clean water can help decrease the rate of intestinal parasite infections.
To anyone who is interested, I highly recommend doing medical care abroad. You do not need a medical background in order to help. I have gone to Belize with Geyer Springs First Baptist Church for all my trips. We work with an organization called WGO that helps organize the clinics. They also do medical clinics in Honduras. You never know what good you can do until you take steps to find out! ν
Dr. Tyler Nelson is an Internal Medicine physician at Bryant Medical Clinic