TBY talks to Dr. Fernando Llorca Castro, Minister of Health, on working to attract more FDI to the sector, current projects, and enhancing Costa Rica's attractiveness in medical tourism.

Dr. Fernando Llorca Castro
Dr. Fernando Llorca Castro has professional experience in health policy and medical practice as well as coordination of primary and secondary care in Costa Rica. He also has experience as Medical Director and Manager in Spain, and Disability Analyst Department of Work and Pensions in the UK. He is a graduate of medicine at the University of Medical Sciences and holds a master’s in health economics from the University Pompeu Fabra. He also holds a master’s in economic policy from Complutense University of Madrid and a master’s in policy and health planning from the London School of Economics.

How does the Ministry of Health work with other departments of the government to attract investment into the healthcare sector?

One of the main problems that we face in Costa Rica is being able to work with other ministries and institutions to bring investment into the country, but thankfully we have made a lot of changes in this regard in the current administration. We work closely with the ministers of commerce, economy, industry, and other related areas. As an example, we are trying to introduce high quality service standards on public and private healthcare providers working with the National Quality Authority lead by the Minister of Commerce, Economy and Industry. To coordinate migration controls it is necessary to work with the Minister of Tourism. We have also worked closely with the Minister of Foreign Relations and the Minister of Agriculture trying to offer health and wellbeing services to people that comes to Costa Rica. Cooperation such as this used to be difficult, but this is gradually improving. We have made a lot of changes that are leading to better results in terms of governance. The primary ministers that we work with on these areas are typically those related to some economy activity. We work to improve the state of the healthcare sector in several ways, such as making it easier for international companies to establish an operation here.

Are there any specific projects or plans that you are working on right now?

We are leading a real revolution in our system of product registration by reducing the bureaucratic process and remove specific barriers, which in the past have been a problem. We are working with the Minister of Commerce, Economy and Industry on related activities, and with the Ministry of Foreign Trade (COMEX). We are also trying to make things easier for smaller companies by helping with the initial capital investments needed to get started. In these projects, we are participating together with the private sector and official business associations to make things easier for companies to establish operations, which is in many ways new for us. We are trying to implement a recycling strategy to deal with waste, and there are many opportunities to develop some related activities in this segment. We already have some international companies helping manage waste in hopes of extracting what we consider to be valuable, and we should increase this activity. We have a few options here in San José; however, we would like to see this expand throughout the country, and we are trying to bring in some new companies to help in that regard. Recently, we started the National Biomedical Research Council (CONIS) as an official body and authority and we would like Costa Rica to recover regional leadership in genomic medicine, clinical trials, in vitro fertilization (IVF), stem cells, and regenerative medicine.

How can Costa Rica maintain its position as a regional hub for medical tourism given increasing competition from other countries in Latin America?

Costa Rica has had an excellent healthcare system for many years. We have had many highly qualified healthcare professionals, but because of the size of the public sector, the private sector often seems small by comparison for a country of this size; however, at the same time there is a huge opportunity to grow as a private sector player, which tends to improve the international healthcare services that we can provide as a country. We are trying to create a quality guarantee for all Costa Rican products, including services, but this remains an ongoing initiative. The medical tourism segment will continue growing in the medium term. There are several initiatives in place to develop related areas such as social tourism and to continue carrying out the same long-term strategies that we have been for many years. We are even looking at ways to encourage older people to move here after retiring.