After impressing the world with its fast and effective response to the swine flu pandemic in 2009, the Mexican healthcare sector has come into focus as a blossoming industry that has benefitted from government support, excellent hospitals, and growing interest in pharmaceutical production and R&D. Through its efforts to achieve universal health care, Mexico has raised the bar for medical services and industries throughout Latin America.
In Mexico, health care is provided through three main channels: public services, private institutions, and private physicians. Approximately half of Mexicans are insured by state providers, with the government seeking to offer access to the remaining half of the population. As over 15 million people in the country are considered unemployed, the Secretariat of Health has placed important efforts on insuring this segment.
In total, the Calderón administration allocated a historic $842 million to the healthcare sector in 2012, in efforts to boost bed availability to more than 1.7 beds and 2.9 physicians per 1,000 people. In terms of retroviral treatment rates, Mexico ranks 11th among the world’s emerging countries and covers 78% of the population. In 2008, 85% of the population had access to sanitation, and 97% were provided with potable water.
Foreign manufacturers have also begun to focus on Mexico, seeing the country as a gateway to the rest of Latin America and key place to export from. Quick to adopt new innovations, Mexico has a booming local market and is considered a trendsetter in the healthcare
In public health care, three bodies provide assistance to the population. The Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS) was founded in 1943 to address the needs of public health. With over 360,000 employees and a budget exceeding $6 billion, the institute belongs to the larger Secretariat of Health and offers medical assistance for workers in the private sector. The Secretariat also operates the Institute for Social Security and Services for State Workers (ISSSTE), which provides coverage for Mexico’s federal workforce.
The two institutions are responsible for approximately 55% of the population. A third organization, Seguro Popular, seeks to provide health service coverage through voluntary programs and public insurance for those that are not affiliated with either social security institution. This innovative program was launched by the Secretariat of Health in October 2009 to address the needs of unmarried couples, children up to 25 years old, and non-blood relatives, among a host of other groups that do not have access to the benefits of plans available to working members of the community. Currently, about 6 million people are affiliated with Seguro Popular.
The Mexican government has also been deeply involved with the transformation of the sector by encouraging the consolidation of coverage, developing clinical guidelines in partnership with social security institutions, and building a framework for the exchange of services and infrastructure between the public and private sectors. With investments in the sector steadily increasing since 2004 and rising to 7% of GDP in 2012, quality is the Secretariat of Health’s main focus. To achieve its goals, the Secretariat has established 10 national health institutes dedicated to research and development.
Meanwhile, the government continues to extend healthcare access across the country, especially to remote areas where service providers are few and far between. “We have taken several actions to provide health care in remote areas, including the installation of mobile units that reach even the most remote communities where over 3.5 million Mexicans live,” Salomón Chertorivski Woldenberg, Mexico’s Secretary of Health, told TBY.
Since the Hospicio Cabañas in Guadalajara, Jalisco, was founded in 1791, medical facilities have appeared throughout the country, some of which have gained international recognition for their competent staff and top-of-the-line equipment. This has promulgated a trend of medical tourism, attracting patients from the US who seek to receive treatments or operations in Mexico for a fraction of the price at home.
Of the more than 4,000 hospitals in the country, 75% are private. However, the bulk of private hospitals have less than 20 beds. Almost all of the 1,000 public hospitals in the country boast more than 90 beds, and rival the quality of many private hospitals in terms of skilled doctors and nurses. Nine hospitals in Mexico have achieved Joint Commission International (JCI) accreditation, which functions as a seal of approval to attract medical tourists and local patients.
Treating more than 83,000 patients yearly, the Centro Médico ABC is one of Mexico’s finest JCI-accredited institutions. The hospital is currently carrying out more than 84 research programs at its two campuses. Like many hospitals in the country, ABC has developed close ties with local universities to provide educational programs and offer training to future medical workers.
In line with the government’s plan to provide healthcare services to all income levels of the population, the Mexican pharmaceuticals market has witnessed the increased manufacturing of generic products. Although late in coming, demand for the more affordable alternative has grown dramatically over the past few years. According to government regulations, each unit must be carefully tested through a strict process before being distributed.
In an interview with TBY, Secretary Chertorivski said that the government is working hard to ensure that “the best possible pharmaceutical alternatives reach the population. When this is not the case, we are working hard to promote a strong bioequivalent generic market so that medicines are more affordable.” This initiative has boosted the economy and attracted foreign manufacturers to the country. Mexican producers, such as generic manufacturer Liomont, are also enjoying the benefits of the expanding generic industry. The company has been focused on the generic industry for over 20 years, with a sales force of 1,000 people and a portfolio of 200 products. Although many of the pharmaceutical products manufactured in Mexico are destined for the export markets of the US and Asia, companies such as Bayer ensure that the local market is its main focus. Bayer is also supporting the economy by launching innovative products, employing state-of-the-art technology, and providing medical education. Another competitive force in the market is Novartis, a company that has recently launched products to fight respiratory diseases and multiple sclerosis in the country. By focusing on specific markets, international pharmaceuticals are encouraging innovation in the country and contributing to the well being of many of its citizens.
An area largely underdeveloped, healthcare experts and pharmaceutical producers agree that the potential to focus on R&D in Mexico is huge. With a plethora of human resources and companies eager to participate, research in a variety of sectors can be expected in the future.
Looking to the future, research in biotechnology is becoming more and more plausible in the country, as pharmaceutical companies and service providers see Mexico as a growing base for healthcare developments. As a pioneer in biotech regulations, the country has set the stage for a revolutionizing of the industry. Due to Mexico’s competitive cost structure and logistical advantages, many companies have already launched R&D operations or are anticipating joining biotechnology research clusters in the country. In terms of clinical development, biopharmaceutical Amgen is leading the way as it conducts tests over four stages. “Amgen Mexico has is participating in approximately 30 trials across various therapeutic areas which involve more than 1,000 patients. These trials are being carried out in 235 centers including different private and government hospitals and clinics across the country,” Sandra Sánchez, General Director of Amgen Mexico, told TBY. The company has heavily focused on the development of biotech solutions that target specific and serious diseases, and has made many of its largest breakthroughs while conducting R&D in Mexico. “We estimate a 25% growth [in biotechnology] in Mexico…biotech is the promise of personalized medicine,” Sánchez explained.
With the help of more incentives geared toward researchers, the healthcare sector’s R&D industry is expected to take off in the coming years. With a highly skilled, qualified workforce, healthcare companies are aiming to attract foreign investments. Furthermore, international companies are gravitating toward the country as the government implements increasingly transparent healthcare regulations. These factors lead not only to the health of Mexico’s population, but also to the health of the economy at large.
© The Business Year