Focus: Health

Operation Beach

Operation Beach

May. 1, 2013

Government spending has been on the rise in the Dominican Republic over recent years, with 190% growth in health expenditure per capita recorded between 2002 and 2010. The figure currently stands at around $600 million. The investment has already made a positive impact on life expectancy, which rose from an average of 71.4 years in 2002 to 73.4 years in 2012, while mortality rates among children and infants also dropped. Contrary to other developing nations, the state healthcare sector is also expanding faster than the private sector, with the state accounting for 41.4% of spending and the private sector 58.6% of spending in thesector in 2009, compared to 34.5% and 65.5% in 2000, respectively. The growing prevalence of insurance also means that fewer people pay out of pocket for healthcare services, with a drop from 71.9% to 65.7% recorded between 2000 and 2009. Those on pre-paid plans increased, meanwhile, to 22.5% from 18.7% over the same period. Increased investment across the board has also paved the way for new breakthroughs, including the country's first heart transplant, carried out at the Hospital General de la Plaza de la Salud in 2012. Challenges now remain to increase the medical tourism offering and train the next generation of medical personnel.

LEAPS & BOUNDS

The country's first heart transplant is indicative of rising healthcare spending, and a significant milestone. Milagros Ureña, General Director of CEDIMAT, told TBY “the completion of the first heart transplant in the country represents proof of the evolution of the ability of Dominican cardiovascular medicine to provide medical care." The organ transplant system was set up over a decade ago to provide a network for the entire country. “In the beginning it was mainly focused on bone marrow transplants, which today is one of our specialties," Julio Castaños, President & Chancellor of Hospital General de la Plaza de la Salud and Universidad Iberoamericana (UNIBE), told TBY.

MEDICAL TOURISM

It is estimated that 6 million US citizens travel abroad each year to receive treatment. Although India, Mexico, Thailand, and Singapore are the most popular destinations, the Dominican Republic is looking to get a slice of the action as part of its plans to boost the healthcare and tourism sectors alike. With US medical tourists spending an estimated $40 billion on procedures around the world every year, it's an opportunity the Dominican Republic would be unwise to miss. With the quality of services ever improving and professional private hospitals making a name for themselves in different fields, international patients are taking notice of the Caribbean country. The country currently attracts customers for a whole manner of operations, from dentistry to hip replacements. The Dominican Republic has a number of advantages over its competition, mainly related to its geographical position close to the US and Canada. Milagros Ureña informed TBY that “in the US there are about 40 million people without insurance, and medical service costs are among the highest in the world." It is hoped that by tapping deeper into this market, the healthcare system could receive a significant boost. Ureña went on to say, “the country has extraordinary access infrastructure with seven international airports and sophisticated communication systems, as well as a high-quality hotel industry," which could easily attract patients that would otherwise travel further afield.

SKILLED HANDS

The Dominican Republic has recognized that if it is serious about making a name on the world stage, it needs a highly skilled workforce in the medical sector. The Organ Donation Law, which allowed doctors to travel abroad for international training, has already proven a success, as evidenced by the first heart transplant. As doctors travel abroad, an increase in international healthcare partnerships will also follow. The Plaza de la Salud has announced many international links, including with the Hospital Clínic in Barcelona and the Hospital Gregorio Marañon in Madrid. Julio Castaños says that the links are a key element behind the hospital's strategy, which will “enable us to exchange knowledge and staff to raise our quality standards." Along with these links, medical schools are also becoming an increasing presence on the island. URIBE is a university affiliated with the Plaza de la Salud and currently hosts 5,000 medical students annually, of which there is a near 100% employment rate upon graduation. URIBE has made some key international partnerships, including with the Florida International University, which is ranked in the top 10 in the US. The healthcare system in the Dominican Republic has improved dramatically over the past decade, with numerous milestones to prove it: Ureña concludes with the importance of increasing the international profile of hospitals to “open the door for more interaction and information exchange, and bring our medical personnel up to date with foreign experts."

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