Health & Education
Finding a Cure
Since the development of a contemporary healthcare system in 1964, Ecuador has worked diligently to become known as an affordable and high-quality medical hub. Boasting internationally trained nurses and physicians at 780 hospitals and clinics nationwide, people from around the region and beyond often come to Ecuador to be treated privately at a lower cost. Meanwhile, the government’s commitment to providing each segment of the population with access to health care has elevated the quality of state institutions.
THE BIG PICTURE
With 23,784 beds, Ecuador has yet to experience a severe shortage in supply for medical treatment. There are 1.7 beds per 1,000 inhabitants, and approximately 98,200 people working for the healthcare sector, 24,960 of which are fully-qualified doctors. However, with nearly 30% of the population living in rural areas below the poverty line, much of the available healthcare services do not reach the more disadvantaged segments of the population. The government has responded to this issue by mandating a promise of universal access, and since 2006, the country has seen poverty levels drop significantly. Over 120 hospitals and clinics run by the Ministry of Health have contributed to this progress. The Ecuadorean Institute of Social Security (IESS) regulates the sector by inspecting health facilities on a regular basis.
In 2012, the UN’s Human Development Index ranked Ecuador 83rd, falling into the “high human development” category and ranking above neighboring Brazil and Colombia. All the same, healthcare providers recognize that there is much room for development in the local sector. Diseases such as tuberculosis, AIDS, and dengue fever are present, and both private care specialists and government officials are seeking ways to combat these recurring issues. “We have to carry on with our commitment, at all levels of the national health system, to bring health care to the Ecuadorean population, regardless of their social and economic status and their geographic location,” Dr. Teófilo Lama, President of Grupo Hospitalario Kennedy, told TBY. To date, about 60% of Ecuador’s population is covered by either government care or private insurance.
With a budget of $1.5 billion in 2012, the Ministry of Health is supporting the construction of new facilities and increased financial incentives for the study and research of medicine. On a per capita basis, government expenditure on health care has steadily increased year by year. Although much of these funds have allegedly been filtered to higher salaries and benefits for government medical personnel, since the 2008 election of President Correa, financing schemes have been streamlined.
Private hospitals and clinics in Ecuador have centered their energy on high-tech equipment and public sector agreements, as well as partnerships with other institutions abroad and throughout Ecuador.
Upon successfully completing the first liver transplant in Ecuador in 2009, Hospital Metropolitano became widely recognized as the most technologically advanced hospital in the country. The institution prides itself on its efficient infrastructure and cutting-edge techniques, serving over 35,000 patients in-house in 2011. In the future, the hospital is preparing to accommodate even more patients and staff. Javier Contreras, General Manager of Hospital Metropolitano, told TBY that “an investment of more than $25 million in three new buildings expanded the medical offices to more than 500 sqm of space, where specialized physicians attend their private practice.” In addition, Contreras expressed his desire to facilitate the government’s promise to deliver universal health care by working closely with the Ministry of Health and the IESS. In this regard, the hospital is focused on extending services to the less fortunate segments of the population and those who suffer from more complex diseases.
Established in 1978, Clínica Kennedy’s highly qualified team has developed top-notch skills as a result of heavy knowledge transfer among other Ecuadorean hospitals and from doctors abroad. “Over the years, we have reached international healthcare agreements with centers from Mexico, Colombia, and the US, and through these agreements we have tried to boost scientific research as well as know-how transfer,” Dr. Lama of Grupo Hospitalario Kennedy said. “At the same time, we have agreements with other Ecuadorean hospitals.”
Previously working 100% in the private sector, the hospital group has since begun serving more patients associated with the social security system, who now make up approximately 60% of those treated. Like Hospital Metropolitano, Grupo Hospitalario Kennedy is also expanding in 2012, aiming to employ a total of 800 doctors and develop two key centers in Samborondón and Alborada.
Demonstrating growth of between 8% and 10% over the past few years, the pharmaceuticals industry is an up-and-coming segment of the healthcare sector, offering jobs and products in both rural and urban areas. The sector is valued at approximately $1.5 billion and is characterized by its competitiveness and qualified workforce. There are over 250 pharmaceutical companies operating in the market, and none have more than a 5% share.
Celebrating its 40th anniversary in the country, Pfizer Ecuador is one of the leading pharmaceutical companies providing services and products related to biopharmaceuticals, nutrition, and animal health. Focused on the needs of the market, Pfizer supplies the local population with medical treatment, sector development, and employment options. “Between 2006 and 2011, Pfizer invested more than $10 million in infrastructure, warehousing, and job creation, both directly and indirectly,” Ana Dolores Román, General Manager of Pfizer Ecuador, told TBY in an interview. “Our R&D activity has also been an important part of our contribution to the Ecuadorean market.” The company employs approximately 200 workers and distributes 110 products in a market dominated by branded medicines.
Another leader in the market is LIFE, the only Ecuadorean company in the top 10 operating in the country. To compete with those at the top, LIFE has depended on the creativity and innovation of its team. According to Héctor Enríquez, General Manager of LIFE, the company has “developed products specifically tailored to solve issues pertaining to Ecuador and to support the country. We have worked toward developing new formulations and new products, and our efforts have been very successful.” In addition, LIFE aims to develop products specifically geared toward animal health, a segment for which it is ranked first in the country. Other pharmaceuticals include Abbott Laboratories, Merck Serono, Bayer, and GSK.
Success in caring for the health of the local population could promptly attract more interest from the surrounding region as Ecuador’s accomplishments in medicine become more in demand. As private hospitals seek to collaborate and innovate, and pharmaceuticals target specific areas of concern, the future of the health of the Ecuadorean people is on the improve.