“Belize is a country of 300-thousand, has roughly about 300 doctors, it really has no specialties,” says Dr. Ralph Pennino, a physician at Rochester General Hospital and founder of Rochester’s InterVol not-for-profit organization for Belize.
While it hasn't received as much media coverage as Mexico, the small country of Belize was hit just as hard by Hurricane Dean. Belize is located just south of the Mexican border, lying along the eastern coastline of Central America. The country became an independent nation in 1981 and is part of the British Commonwealth of Nations. It was just shy of being hit by the eye of the storm.
“As the storm was hitting, they actually were in a bunker, and so they had evacuated Belize City,” says Dr. Pennino, “their main health facility is in Belize City.”
Dr. Pennino started the Rochester branch of InterVol to help Belize in 2001. For the last six year, he’s sent teams of doctors to Belize to assist with specialty surgeries such as burn repair, hernias and congenital defects. Since the news of Hurricane Dean, Pennino has been working quickly to gather medical supplies to send as soon as possible.
“They're in need of the basic medical supplies that we can collect so we're trying to raise funds to actually ship it down there, we'll take care of the collections,” says Dr. Pennino.
“We're talking about everything from gauze and dressing materials to surgical instruments to items that would be used with anesthesia machines,” says Virginia Tyler, president of InterVol in Rochester.
The estimated shipping cost is $15,000. InterVol is seeking monetary donations from the public to cover the cost.
“At this point they have not received any reports of any casualties, however, they have not been able to go out and assess the damages,” says Tyler, “in a storm of this nature, it's impossible to know if they can get through and when they get through, what they'll find.”
A team of local doctors may also soon be sent to Belize, however, until the extent of damage and possible casualties is known, medical supplies are the primary concern.
“It's an impoverished country,” says Dr. Pennino.
“They are so under-resourced. This is a nation where the entire health care budget is 22 million dollars in 2003. Just to compare that, that's not even one of the budgets of Rochester's hospitals,” says Tyler.
Monetary donations to InterVol’s Belize medical supply relief efforts can be sent to:
10 Hagen Drive, Suite 310
Rochester, NY 14625
Att: Hurricane Dean Relief
Call for more information: (585) 922-5810