In the small Caribbean nation of Belize, with a population of under a half-million, 150 to 175 people undergo amputations each year as a result of disease, accidents, or violence. A lack of resources, services, and expertise makes acquiring and maintaining prostheses exceedingly difficult for amputees, particularly in rural areas. Fortunately for many affected Belizeans, foreign NGOs are delivering this life-changing healthcare service through their medical missions.
Project Hope Belize (Project Hope) is a partner of Prosthetic Hope International, an organization that provides rehabilitation care for prosthetic and orthotic (P&O) patients by developing, operating, or supporting P&O clinics, networking with other NGOs, and connecting individuals in need with service providers all over the world. Since 1996, Project Hope has offered patients in Belize prosthesis fitting and adjustments, physical therapy, post-amputation counseling, and diabetes education for high-risk patients to prevent amputation.
Over four visits in 2019, Project Hope’s team of prosthetists, physical therapists, students, and support personnel traveled from the United States to Belize to address the needs of patients and their families. Beyond serving local patients, Project Hope provides an opportunity for future clinicians to build practical experience by including 3–5 students on each mission. The students provide much-needed assistance to the full-time staff and develop skills essential for their future profession.
It is difficult to acquire the necessary equipment in Belize. The Project Hope team assembles and sends a variety of prosthesis supplies including prosthetic feed & adapters, lamination materials, sleeves, belts, and an assortment of textiles to meet them upon their arrival. A significant portion of recent financing from funding partner CAF Canada was allocated toward securing and shipping the materials to the project location. This aspect of the project planning requires careful attention to ensure there are enough supplies to serve not only the individuals with appointments, but also walk-in patients who learn about the medical mission underway.
The team operates out of the Prosthetic Hope International temporary clinic in Orange Walk Town, in northern Belize. Transportation to the clinic is challenging for many, however, plans are underway for establishing mobile clinics in Belize City, Belmopan, and Dangriga to broaden the scope and impact of each mission moving forward.
Far surpassing their projected 60 prosthetic fittings in 2019, a total of 80 patients received new prosthetics, a testament to the determination of the organization and their ability to stretch the funding from their generous donors to serve their patients. This clear dedication to their mission is met with genuine trust and appreciation within the impacted communities.
A large part of Project Hope’s work in Belize also focuses on post-amputation counseling. The mental and emotional toll of these surgeries can be life-altering. It impacts daily routines, relationships, work, and it can be perceived as limiting the ability to live an independent life. A decline in self-esteem among other emotional challenges are commonly seen in patients. The Project Hope team trains its staff in grief counseling to assist those experiencing any of these reactions to their recent trauma. For Project Hope, their work isn’t complete until their patients have returned to relative normalcy in their lives.
For so many around the globe needing prosthetics, the lack of resources limits their ability to overcome their disability and live their life to its maximum potential. Project Hope and their parent organization, Prosthetic Hope International, do just that; the organizations bring hope to underserved communities and help amputees live better lives.