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UDP critiques MOHW’s policies, calls for transparency regarding COVID test prices

Belize City, October 7, 2021

“Test, test test! Isolate, isolate, isolate!”, was Opposition Leader Hon. Patrick Faber’s urgent call to the Government of Belize and to the Ministry of Health and Wellness to make COVID testing free for everyone and do more tests for COVID-19, as a way to slow the spread of the virus.

Faber was backed by a team of health professionals: Dr. George Gough, Dr. Alain Gonzalez and Dr. Shanikka Arnold, who offered several recommendations at a press conference held at the UDP headquarters in Belize City on Thursday morning, October 7.

Free testing for everyone would help to slow community spread by identifying and isolating infested persons, said Faber. He also called on the health ministry to open more vaccination sites to get more people vaccinated, and in the meantime, to hold off on opening schools to reduce the risk of children transmitting the virus. Parallel to the testing and vaccination, he called on government to enforce the basic COVID-19 protocols of wearing masks, for persons to maintain the six-foot physical distance in public places and on public transportation.

Dr. Gough called on health ministry to be more transparent about the purchase of pharmaceuticals and other medical supplies, especially for testing and treating of COVID-19. He noted that the reagents for the PCR test cost as little as $8.00 per test, when purchased in bulk, and the privatization of testing, at considerable cost to the patient had reduced and restricted the speed of detection of infected person, allowing these infected persons to continue infecting others, before they could be isolated.

Dr. Gonzalez noted that the new rapid tests are quick, reliable and cheap, and cost as little as $40 per test, but private institutions were charging as much as $150 per test. He said this should be made available for free to speed the detection and isolation of infected persons. Gonzalez also urged Belizeans to get vaccinated, as this would lessen the possibility of them getting seriously ill, and increase their chance of survival even if they do get infected with one of the new variants of the virus

Faber also called on the government to offer incentives for persons to get vaccinated, whether by food baskets or financial assistance. He noted that people are reluctant to stand in long lines to get vaccinated and recommended that the health ministry open more sites where the public can get vaccinated, particularly, on Belize’s City’s southside and other urban areas.

Dr. Arnold emphasized the importance of wearing masks properly and cited children’s natural inclination to socialize as part of her reason for delaying the return to in person instruction for schools. She pointed out that children might not fully understand the importance of following the anti-COVID protocols, and might not strictly adhere to the protocols. She noted that children are resilient and are very likely to be asymptomatic when infected, but the increased likelihood of their getting infected at school, would also mean they would bring the virus home to their families, including elderly grandparents, who would not be so resilient to infection.

Faber also called on the government to reinstate the food baskets and economic support for those families whose heads of household are unemployed. He asked that the government to also offer special support to those families which have lost someone to COVID-19, such as help with paying for burial, and the transportation of infected persons to hospitals or clinics.

From his own experience with his mother, who had luckily survived COVID infection, Faber noted that the cost of health care for COVID patients was very expensive at private institutions, and he called on the government to guarantee that the best quality care would be provided to COVID-19 patients, regardless of their financial means, at public health facilities. Dr. Gough noted that the cost of the medication to treat a patient might be $6,000 – $8,000, which was nothing compared to the value of a life, but at a private facility, this same care might cost $40,000!

The UDP doctors also called on the government to provide for private institutions to offer discounted or affordable services to patients with chronic illness or who need elective surgery, as these persons cannot presently access these services at private health care facilities which are crowded with COVID-19 patients.

Dr. Gough also called on the Minister of Health and other government decision makers to listen to their health professionals, as he noticed that his colleagues were saying the right things when they addressed the media, but he was not seeing their statements being put into practice as government policy.

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