SCIENTIFIC RIGOR

Colombia 2020 | HEALTH | INTERVIEW

INVIMA promotes and protects public health by monitoring products that people use and consume on a daily basis

Julio César Aldana Bula
BIOGRAPHY

Julio César Aldana Bula has more than 28 years of experience in the public and private sectors. He served as director of INVIMA between 2002 and 2007. He was also head of the radiology department of several clinics and hospitals in Colombia, and general manager of the Changing Lives Foundation in Barranquilla. He has a degree in medicine, specialized in diagnostic imaging, from Universidad de Buenos Aires, and a master's in management and social security systems from the Universidad Alcalá de Henares in Spain.

How does INVIMA seek to reduce waiting times and procedures in the medical sector?
Digital transformation is also a tool to fight corruption and to be more transparent and efficient. Digital transformation affects our six regional offices. By restructuring all these regional offices, we seek to ensure that valuable entrepreneurs in the regions can access the sanitary registry through digital tools. Additionally, we need to generate partnerships with academia and other state institutions such as chambers of commerce. We are holding workshops in all the regions in order to improve the health sector. This includes training people and connecting them with regional entrepreneurs who are not fully aware of the effects of complying with sanitary standards on public health.

How does INVIMA plan to continue increasing scientific rigor and vigilance, particularly in the field of medical cannabis and cannabis-based cosmetic products?
INVIMA does not promote entrepreneurship, economic development, or anything similar. INVIMA is a health authority, and our interests do not always align with those of the private sector. The current government has a clear and defined policy regarding the use of medical cannabis. We respect the autonomy of nations that have accepted the use of recreational cannabis, though in Colombia, the use of cannabis is restricted to medicinal use. That does not prevent us from moving forward, for example, in something that the industry demands. In fact, we have already done it in the cosmetics sector, where there are more than 300 health records. Compared to other countries, Colombia has made great strides. There are certain business developments that we cannot ignore as long as we have a single roadmap based on scientific rigor. With science, we can define specific uses and a timely development of cannabis around the needs in the world of medicine. Colombia must hold on to scientific rigor to grow the cannabis industry. The country is a pioneer in regulatory matters in the region. INVIMA is seen as one of the most bureaucratic organizations, but that is because we want to ensure high standards of safety and efficiency; after all, our main purpose is to strengthen public health.

How is INVIMA facilitating the success of the medical cannabis sector, and what are your short- and medium-term expectations about its role in the face of a rapidly developing market?
I only see INVIMA in its role as health authority. Moreover, we have a standard that has advanced and cannot be stagnant. Colombia has to move ahead in issuing excellent manufacturing practices to make the market for master products a reality. In addition, we have to keep moving forward so that there is greater transformation and more physio-therapeutic products based on chemical synthesis and scientific rigor. The government is looking at how to promote the sector without neglecting public health interests.

How does Colombia's medical cannabis industry stand in comparison to the region?
The majority of establishments I visited in Canada belong to investors that are also present in Colombia, so there is transparency of knowledge and technology, which gives us peace of mind as a health authority. The rigor I saw in Canada around production is extremely high.

As one the most important authorities in Colombia, what is your outlook for 2020 and beyond?
Essentially, we seek to build prestige. To have prestige, society must recognize it. We promote and protect public health by monitoring products that people use and consume on a daily basis. This recognition is the most important and is achieved through transparency, efficiency, and safety. We have advanced significantly in the area of food, cosmetics, and medical devices. Notably, we have facilitated some procedures and also eliminated others.