THE KEY IS PATIENTS

Panama 2017 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | REVIEW: HEALTH

Healthcare spending in both the public and private arenas had increased as the population grows and more expatriates choose Panama as a place to retire.

Panama has seen numerous positive developments in the healthcare sector over the past few years; the private sector has boosted its efforts to offer a variety of services and treatments to the local community, as well as the many expatriates who live or retire in Panama. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health (MINSA) has increased its healthcare budget focused on improving existing healthcare facilities, as well as adding more hospitals, equipment, and medical vehicles to the mix.

The 2017 budget was presented by MINSA head Dr. Miguel Mayo to the National Assembly earlier this year. At USD2.2 billion, the budget is approximately USD70 million more than in 2016. Specifically, USD73.5 million has been allocated to the renovation of existing healthcare facilities and about USD174 million was earmarked for improving the Panamanian environment as a way to improve the overall health of the population, as well as support many in their climb out of poverty. Identifying niche demands, MINSA also invested USD5 million to expand its medical vehicle fleet by 59 ambulances to reach a total of 220. As of March 2017, 50% of the 2017 government's budgeted funds had been dispersed to various segments of the healthcare sector as part of Mayo's efforts to ensure that the healthcare sector is able to exceed the achievements made in 2016. According to the latest figures provided by MINSA, the combined total of annual spending on both private and public healthcare comes to an average of USD3.7 billion.

Panama has the ambitious Health Agenda for the Americas (ASA) 2008-2017 backing up its healthcare sector. The program was developed in 2007 by an international working group led by Panama's own MINSA, and was signed by all the health ministers in the Americas. Up until now, the agenda has served as a strategic and policy document that guides public policies and health interventions throughout the region. However, with new challenges on the horizon, Panama will soon be seeking to design new sustainable policies and strategies that better address its needs

At the national level, Panama has already devised and presented a Food and Nutrition Security Plan 2017-2021, which specifies what actions need to be taken to address malnutrition. Currently, obesity has proven to be an emerging issue, with 21% of adults considered obese. A further 57% of Panamanian adults are overweight. On the opposite side of the spectrum, undernourishment is still prevalent in up to 10% of the Panamanian population; however, that figure has declined steadily over the past 15 years and shows signs of improvement heading into 2017. Under the guidance of the larger food security plan, a school nutrition program has been implemented with an investment of over USD18 million, aimed at providing basic and healthy meals for students across Panama.

HOSPITAL CITY

A number of government-led initiatives, as well as private projects, are set to revolutionize the way Panamanians gain access to healthcare. With the current administration finally settled in, many projects that were on hold have been kickstarted and are back on track to meet targets for completion.

One such project is Hospital City, a USD517 million project of 17 buildings and 1,342 hospital beds. Work on Panama's Hospital City began in May 2012. The project, which was commissioned by Panama's social security organization, is designed to extend over an area covering 78 acres, and 54% of the first phase is already complete. After a lull in activity in 2015, the second phase of construction has begun. Once completed, the project will play a vital role in meeting the 5% annual increase in demand for specialized care for subscribers of social security healthcare plans. Meanwhile, 20% of the project's facilities will be available for use by MINSA. In September 2016, Panama's President Juan Carlos Varela announced that the National Oncology Institute will be relocated to Hospital City by the end of 2018—offering oncology services to a wider number of patients at a higher standard of quality. In addition, the new location will offer 100 more beds, increasing its capacity to 250 inpatients.

At the same time, SBA Group's Panama Medical Center (PMC) project is gearing up to build on more than 30,000sqm of medical real estate in the central medical district of Panama City. Hospital Nacional, Hospital del Niño, and Hospital Santo Tomas, the leading healthcare facility in Panama, are all located within the same area. The USD15 million PMC project is slated for completion by mid-2018.

The Centro Médico del Este project, which consists of three towers of seven stories for medical offices and specialized clinics, is also underway. The center will specialize in areas such as prevention and diagnostics, as well as treatment, with results-oriented approach to clinical cases and comprehensive medical collaboration. Meant to be as accessible as possible, the healthcare center also features a car parking facility of over 4,000 spaces.

WHAT THE DOCTOR ORDERED

Pharmaceutical companies, hospital operators, and healthcare sector ancillary services providers have long converged in Panama as a result of its geographical position and attractiveness as a medical tourism and retirement location. Those who come to Panama seeking treatment typically need medical attention for orthopedics, oncology, plastic surgery, and odontology services.

For GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Panama represents a hub from which it can supply the rest of Latin America with high-quality medicines and services. The company operates a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant that employs around 300 people and exports 90% of its products to over 24 countries in the region. “The main product that we produce here is Panadol in several versions. Our operations are important, not only because it is a sign of how multinational companies believe in the country as a place for manufacturing but also because we employ people from Panama," Monica Shaw, Cluster Head of Panama, Honduras, South Caribbean for GSK, told TBY. With R&D coming into view as a critical component of the future, GSK operates four business units in the country: the Latin American Hub for Vaccines Clinical Research, the Latin America Hub for Logistic and Demand, a consumer products manufacturing site, and a pharmaceuticals headquarters for Central America and the Caribbean.

For Centro Médico Paitilla, Panama is a place for training and educating a workforce with huge potential. “We believe our people need to continuously update their knowledge to keep on their professional development. There is a lack of qualified human resources in the health sector in Panama. In this context, our investment in our people becomes even more relevant," Vilma Moreno de Arias, Executive Director of Centro Médico Paitilla, explained to TBY. To that end, the medical center supports its doctors as it treats patients with new methodologies and technology. In addition, the company sees itself as a key proponent of not only educating its staff, but the Panamanian people at large. “We put in a great deal of effort to promote and participate in talks, conventions, special events, and similar sectoral meetings that target the public," Moreno de Arias emphasized.