Country Profile - Belize



Situated in Central America, but having historical, political, and economic ties to the Caribbean, Belize finds itself in a unique position. Belize is the only English-Speaking country in Central America but has a large Spanish-speaking population. The country is known for its ethnic and cultural diversity and for its rich natural resource base. Since its independence from Great Britain in 1981, Belize has slowly increased its visibility on the international stage, primarily for its diverse tourism product.



Area 22,963 sq. km (8,866 sq. miles). Capital: Belmopan (pop. 13,351). Belize borders the Caribbean Sea along the eastern shore of Central America just below the Yucatan Peninsula. It is bounded on the north and west by Mexico and on the south and west by Guatemala. Belize is situated on the northeast coast of Central America. The Caribbean Sea lies to the east and from the air its turquoise waters are clear, allowing the multi-coloured coral formation of the Great Barrier Reef to be easily observed.


Demographic Overview

According to the 2010 Population Census, Belize has a total population of 312,698 of which, 60.9% are under 25 years old. The lower middle-income country classification, disguises and denies significant rates of poverty, unemployment, chronic malnutrition, drug abuse and violence as well as other specific conditions that affect the overall health of the population. In addition, the country is heavily indebted, highly vulnerable to economic and disaster shocks, and is negatively affected by the “brain drain,”  which has seen many professionals, including health care workers migrating to other countries. This has serious implications for the provision of adequate health care, which is provided mostly by the Government.


Economic Overview

Belize has a small, essentially private-enterprise economy, tourism is the number one foreign exchange earner followed by exports of marine products, citrus, cane sugar, and bananas. The government's expansionary monetary and fiscal policies, initiated in September 1998, led to sturdy GDP growth averaging nearly 4% in 1999-2007. Growth slipped to 3.8% in 2008, 0% in 2009, and 1.5% in 2010 as a result of the global slowdown, natural disasters, and the drop in the price of oil. Oil discoveries in 2006 bolstered economic growth. Exploration efforts continue and there was a small increase in production in 2009. Major concerns continue to be the sizable trade deficit and heavy foreign debt burden. In February 2007, the government restructured nearly all of its public external commercial debt, which helped reduce interest payments and relieved some of the country's liquidity concerns. A key objective remains the reduction of poverty and inequality. In 2009, the population living below the poverty line was calculated at 43.1% and the unemployment rate was 13.1%.  In 2010 GDP per capita was estimated at $8,400. 


Health and Social issues affecting Belize

Belize has the highest HIV prevalence in Central America and the 4th highest in the Caribbean, with estimated adult prevalence of 2.1%. While the HIV prevalence in the 15-24 age group is 10.8%. The key age groups still affected remain those between 20-49 years of age with the highest number seen in those 25-29 years . Young persons are especially vulnerable to HIV transmission, due to limited HIV prevention education and behavioural change communication initiatives, stigma and socio-economic circumstances, which result in continued risky sexual behaviour patterns. Their vulnerability is further fuelled by the fact that almost 60% of the secondary school age population is not enrolled in school. The implication of these statistics is tremendous. They mean, firstly, that a significant percentage of the population is not being educated to basic standards of literacy and numeracy as is provided in primary school. They also mean that well over half of the youth population does not have access to basic education for employment. This leaves a large, segment of the adolescent and youth cadre on the streets, exposed to associated risk.


Although in 2009 the m aternal mortality ratio was at 53.9 per 100,000, in 2011 for the first time, Belize recorded zero maternal deaths. There are high rates of births to adolescents and teenagers, approximately 20% of the all live births. Complications of pregnancy, childbirth and puerperium are among the leading causes of hospitalization in the 10-14 age groups and the leading cause of hospitalization in the 15-19. There is a reported 12% contraceptive use among adolescent females 15-19 (MICS 2006). The percentage of women using any method of contraception in Maya-speaking households is very low (15.4 %) with sexually active adolescents being far less likely to use contraception than older women.


Snapshot of Belize Reproductive Health Indicators

Maternal mortality ratio – 53
Adolescent fertility rate – 78.7
HIV prevalence among 15-24 year old pregnant women – 0.8%
HIV prevalence among adults aged 15-49 - 2.1%
% of youth who have a comprehensive knowledge of HIV (male and female) – 43%
Unmet need for family planning – 16.1
Contraceptive prevalence rate – 55.2
Total fertility rate for woman, 15-49 – 2.8
Births attended by skilled health professionals – 95%
Pregnant women receiving prenatal care – 99.2 %
Teenage mothers (% of women ages 15-19) who have had children – 18%

Source: Epidemiological Unit, Ministry of Health Belize and MICS – UNICEF 2011


UNFPA in Belize

In September 2003, UNFPA established a physical presence in Belize. The current staff complement is four comprising - one Assistant Representative, one Programme Assistant, one Driver Driver/Office Assistant and an HIV Officer.


UNFPA as a part of the wider UN System in Belize
UNFPA as an active member of the UN Country Team participated in the development of the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF 2013-2016).  The priority areas identified for engagement between the Government of Belize and the UN country team with support from non-resident UN agencies are the following:


PRIORITY 1: Advancing Human Rights with Equity, equality and non-discrimination

PRIORITY 2: Promoting economic and social well-being, citizen security and justice

PRIORITY 3: Environmental and natural resource management, disaster risk reduction and climate change 

                   mainstreamed into public policies and development processes

PRIORITY 4: Democratic governance

UNFPA co-leads priority one with UNICEF- Advancing Human Rights with Equity, equality and non-discrimination, therefore, both agencies are responsible for coordinating and monitoring the programmes and interventions leading to the outcome and outputs under this priority area.


Key Achievements in the Belize programme 2007-2011

During the fourth country programme cycle which spanned the period 2007-2011, the Belize programme focused on the key areas of UNFPA’s mandate: (i) Sexual and Reproductive Health (ii) Population and Development (iii) Gender Equality .

UNFPA in Belize has supported many programme interventions with both Government and Civil Society Organizations geared towards improving adolescent sexual and reproductive health, promoting maternal health, preventing gender-based violence and strengthening the linkages between population and development.


Increase access to SRH and promotion of reproductive rights

·   The office supported the training of health professionals to provide comprehensive and quality SRH services to adolescents. This was further complemented with the establishment of several youth friendly spaces to ensure access to SRH information and services to adolescents and young people including those from vulnerable communities.

UNFPA entered into a co-financing agreement with the Ministry of Health, which facilitated access to RH commodities in communities with the greatest need.  And in an effort to ensure that programme development is based on evidence, UNFPA in collaboration with the Special Education Unit – NARCIE conducted a KAP Survey in the area of SRH/HIV/AIDS among persons with disability (hearing impaired). The results of this survey have been used to inform future programmes for persons with disabilities.


Gender Equality and women and girls empowerment 

UNFPA in collaboration with the Ministry of Human Development through its Women’s Department, embarked on several activities aimed at strengthening the capacity of key first responders to manage domestic and sexual violence complaints. Key activities included the development of a Sexual Violence Handbook; introduction of a sexual & domestic violence protocol, and training of police officers, social workers and health practitioners in the use of both protocols as well as the staging of informational sessions and sexual violence forums for 16 Days of Activism and the UNiTE Campaign.


Unique Partnership with National Partners

UNFPA has strengthened its partnership with civil society organizations particularly those working with young people, especially disadvantaged adolescents and teenage girls. In addition, the Belize office works closely with young people through the Youth Advisory Group (YAG). The YAG plays a significant role in keeping UNFPA attuned to the needs of this important stakeholder grouping and in reaching out to other members of the youth population.


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Also please look at our 2009 and 2010 Country Office Annual Report...