Most children living in Belize are born healthy and have access to health care services. Significant progress has been made in immunization rates, malaria control, and tuberculosis, but under-five mortality rate is still 22.5% per 1000 live births. Diseases such as polio, chronic malnutrition or ‘wasting’ (low weight for height) and stunted growth (23% in rural areas versus 11% in urban areas), are still affecting Belizean children. The main health problems affecting children start from before birth, then intestinal infectious disease followed by nutritional deficiencies including anemia problems and traffic accidents. In Belize, 97 per cent of children are immunized against measles.
In spite of the strides made in health, a growing concern is the number of babies being born HIV-positive and the increasing number of young children being orphaned by AIDS. While some of these children may be cared for by the state or NGOs, most are taken care of by the extended family. However, they are still discriminated against within various social settings, including in the home. Estimates show that more than one in ten children in Belize is vulnerable as a result of their exposure or their family’s exposure to HIV/AIDS.
Statistics also indicate that only about 23 per cent of mothers breastfeed exclusively for three months, and 90 per cent breastfeed for a shorter time. Inadequate complementary feeding practices for children age 6 to 23 months is the main cause of malnutrition in some areas of the country. Only 20 per cent of children in their first year are adequately fed in Belize. With 48% of the population currently under the age of 18, the effects of social ills and unequal access to services are very visible throughout society and are likely to have serious consequences far into the future.