(PAHO) — Eleven hospitals and health centers and a laboratory in Belize will be retrofitted to make them safer, “green” and able to continue operating during emergencies and disasters as part of the Smart Health Facilities Project, a Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) initiative, financed by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (UKaid) and the European Union.
The Matron Roberts, Cleopatra White, Independece II and Isabel Palma I polyclinics, as well as the San Ignacio community hospital and the Palm Center were selected to form part of the initiative, following an assessment of country priorities and the facilities’ vulnerability to disaster risks. The Western Regional Hospital, the Northern Regional Hospital and the Southern Regional Hospital, as well as the Punta Gorda and Corozal Community hospitals and the Central Medical Laboratory will also form part of this initiative.
“PAHO has been working on disaster prevention and response for 40 years and this has enabled many countries in the Americas to be better prepared to face them,” said the Director of PAHO, Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, during her official visit to the country. “To save more lives, we need health centers with plans in place as well as better prepared communities,” she added.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, seven out of ten hospitals are located in areas at high risk of disasters, which can leave them out of service in the event of a hurricane, earthquake or flood. The health sector is also a contributor to climate change and faces high energy and water costs, particularly in small island states.
“When disaster strikes, hospitals must remain accessible to people and must be able to operate at full capacity in order to provide care to those affected by an emergency as well as to regular patients that need care,” said Dr. Ciro Ugarte, Director of the Department of Health Emergencies at PAHO.
Ugarte explained that the project will enable select health centers to be retrofitted in order to become resilient and sustainable – by reducing operating costs-, as well as being more efficient service providers and more environmentally friendly.
Claire Bruce, Deputy High Commissioner of the British High Commission in Belize said that, for her country, “it is an honor to support this project because it has a real impact on peoples’ lives”. She said that the United Kingdom is supporting the second phase of the Smart Health Facilities Initiative in 7 Caribbean countries with more than 39 million pounds-sterling. The Project is being implemented in Dominica, Belize Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The European Union also joined the Project in Belize. Nicolaus Hansmann, Head of the European Union team in Belize, highlighted the contribution of 7 million euros for the project – which also includes a laboratory – and said that this support not only seeks to ensure changes to the facilities, but also aims to improve the quality of care and contribute to the country’s national health plan. Hansmann mentioned that the creation of a national implementation committee will be important to ensure project accountability.
The Project in Belize has advanced in a variety of ways. So far, a safety assessment has been carried out in the facilitates using a guide developed by PAHO, as well as an index that determines how green they are and what measures can be taken to reduce their carbon footprint. The redesign of the first six selected health institutions has also been completed, staff have been trained and meetings held with the community in order to receive their input. The first works are expected to begin within the next 3 months in the San Ignacio community hospital.
“It is imperative that we prepare ourselves to become more resilient,” said Ángel Campos, Secretary of State for Health at the Belize Ministry of Health. “Valuable contributions from international partners and local work will enable us to be better prepared to face natural disasters in the future,” he added.
Dr. Noreen Jack, PAHO/WHO Representative in Belize said that the initiative is timely as “climate change is upon us. The health sector must therefore be prepared and resilient when natural and other disasters strike.”
The interventions that will be carried out to ensure that the health facilities are more resilient include improvements to the ceilings to that they can withstand heavy rain, wind and hurricanes; structural improvements to prevent buildings from collapsing in the event of an earthquake; and the installation of solar panels to enable energy savings. Changes are also foreseen in the circulation of patients and the work of health personnel, as well as to improve ventilation and ensure that the facilities are more accessible for people with disabilities. Together, all of these interventions will ensure the provision of better quality health care for the population.