HEALTHY OUTLOOK

Panama 2015 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Dr. Javier Terrientes, Minister of Health, on Panama's rapidly developing health sector, the importance of public and private investment, and increasing healthcare access across the country.

HE Dr. Javier Terrientes
BIOGRAPHY
HE Dr. Javier Terrientes graduated from the University of Panama with a specialization in radiology. He has over 20 years of experience in the medical field, and has made notable contributions to the Panamanian Council of Osteoporosis and other professional organizations. Prior to his appointment as Minister of Health in 2014, Terrientes worked at the Clinica Hospital San Fernando.

Can you elaborate on the Ministry's strategy to provide universal access to healthcare to the Panamanian people?

Universal healthcare is one of our top priorities. In spite of the large allocation of economic resources to the healthcare system, our services still do not reach all regions of the country equally. Therefore, our main efforts go towards making sure these resources do reach all Panamanians, regardless of their place of residence. We have also allocated more resources to the promotion of the healthcare system and disease prevention, especially in the most remote areas of Panama. The Ministry has prioritized investment in human resources; there is a deficit of professionals in rural Panama. We believe that these efforts will help fill the gaps in healthcare coverage. The indigenous communities are the largest population with inadequate access to healthcare due to this deficit of human resources and lack of adequate infrastructure. In this context, we have several ongoing projects in the field.

How important is prevention and how does the Ministry tackle this issue?

The best investment is always in prevention and promotion of healthcare. Data shows that for every $1-2 invested in prevention and promotion, the country saves $9 in health care costs. This is a top priority for us and that is why we have revised our budget to allocate more resources to these efforts. Preventive healthcare will enable us to invest in large health infrastructure projects. Our main efforts in prevention go to cardiac and cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, as these require simple and low cost measures such as active lifestyles and regular exercise to generate important results. We also want to take action in schools and regulate the food we give to our children as well as encourage nutritious eating.

How does the Ministry work to create synergies with other ministries to attract foreign investment in the healthcare sector?

Investment in the health sector has been particularly relevant over the past few years. We have five top hospitals of the highest international standards when it comes to technological equipment and quality services. These achievements have been possible thanks to joint efforts of the government and private sector. The public sector is the facilitator of foreign investment. In this context, we do work alongside other ministries to develop human resources and key strategies for the sector—we have the so-called social cabinet, in which we discuss actions that imply efforts from several fields such as the Ministries of Education, Social Affairs, Health, as well as the President's office.

What is the strategy of the Ministry to establish international partnerships to boost the transfer of know-how to Panama?

One of our priorities is to analyze international experiences and learn from them. The Ministry has already signed several partnerships with Spain and Uruguay, among others. Our objective is to learn from those experiences in those countries and take the best for our country.

What is the potential for Panama to become a regional hub within the medical tourism segment?

Panama is already a geographical and infrastructure hub for the region. Panama has the services, capabilities, and resources to become areal top destination within the medical tourism sector. As the Ministry, we should also take the lead to give the sector a boost by providing the industry with support.

What are the main goals of the Ministry for 2015?

We believe there is a lack of investment in human resources, especially in rural Panama. This is one of our top priorities—the present and the future of professionals within the health sector. We have signed partnerships with key universities in the country to increase the capabilities of these institutions. We will also develop new infrastructure and push forward several key projects neglected by the previous administration.