WASHINGTON, Nov. 19, The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) says it is supporting Belize to address medical needs and ensure the continuation of health services in areas devastated by the recent passage of Hurricane Lisa.
PAHO noted that Hurricane Lisa made landfall in Belize on November 2 as a Category One Hurricane, “bringing strong gusty winds, flash floods and storm surges throughout the entire coast of the country, and especially battering Belize District.”
The hurricane affected 172,000 people, causing the temporary displacement of at least 5000 who sought refuge in state-managed shelters.
According to PAHO, it established a Disaster Response Team through its Belize country office to support the Ministry of Health and Wellness (HW) in the response.
The team conducted assessments of the national and referral hospitals Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital, Matron Roberts, and Cleopatra White Polyclinics in the Belize District, as well as in health facilities in rural areas, such as the Hattieville Health Center.
It said the newly-retrofitted Smart Health Facilities, funded by the United Kingdom and those being retrofitted under the European Union, were also assessed by the PAHO Team, who found zero to minimal damages.
“We are focusing on performing risk and disaster assessments of health care facilities and are facilitating the procurement of essential non-medical and medical supplies, such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), medicines, mosquito nets, first-aid kits, insect repellent, non-perishable food and water, sanitation, and hygiene products,” said Dr. Noreen Jack, PAHO representative in Belize.
PAHO said its team also visited major shelters to provide guidance on maintaining COVID-19 health measures to prevent outbreaks within the facilities.
“Immediately following the storm, the PAHO country team made contact and responded alongside the Ministry’s team, inspecting health facilities and shelters and providing an assessment in order to identify damage or needs,” said the Director of Public Health and Wellness at the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Dr. Melissa Diaz-Musa.
“The PAHO team has also offered to procure emergency supplies for the affected population. The MoHW and PAHO continue to collaborate not only in times of need but also in regular times to ensure a resilient and robust health system for our country,” Dr. Diaz-Musa added.
In order to strengthen the country’s disease surveillance system, PAHO said it is also providing technical cooperation and guidance to the ministry to monitor for water-, food-, and vector-borne diseases.
PAHO said its Disaster Response Team accompanied national health authorities in visits to vulnerable villages and communities to inspect water quality, including the testing of chlorine levels to ensure water safety, “since this plays an important role in preventing water-borne diseases during and after a disaster.”
“PAHO will continue to work with Belize’s Ministry of Health and Wellness, the United Nations, and other partners in the country to strengthen the health sector’s capacities in disease prevention, surveillance, and response during the recovery from hurricane Lisa,” the PAHO representative said.
Classified as a Small Island Developing State (SIDS), PAHO said Belize’s low-lying coasts, rising sea level, coastal erosion, and topical climate combine to make the country vulnerable to hurricanes, flooding, and storm surges.
“Almost all national health facilities are in areas at risk,” said PAHO, adding that it has supported the country’s efforts to strengthen preparedness and response to such emergencies by, for example, retrofitting health facilities and making them more energy efficient and resilient to climate-sensitive disasters, such as hurricanes.
PAHO said it also helps countries in other disaster preparedness activities, providing guidance to protect the lives of patients and health workers and to ensure that health services continue to operate effectively during and after emergencies.