The Business Year

Fernando Ruí­z

COLOMBIA - Health & Education

Fernando Ruí­z

Minister of Health and Social Protection,

Bio

Fernando Ruí­z is an alumnus of Liceo de Cervantes and has master’s degrees in economics (Universidad Javeriana) and public health (Harvard School of Public Health). He has a doctorate in public health from Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública de Mexico. He has worked as scientific director of the Center for Cancer Treatment and Research, was a consultant to the World Bank, and was director of the Center for Development Projects (CENDEX) of Universidad Javeriana. He co-founded and was the first president of the Colombian Association of Health Economy (Acoes). He was part of the executive committee of the World Health Organization. He was vice-minister of public health during the presidency of Juan Manuel Santos. Dr. Ruiz led and put into operation the first Integral Center for Cancer Assistance in Latin America.

The Ministry of Health and Social Protection's solid and timely management of the health emergency was even recognized by the World Health Organization.

What is your assessment of Colombia’s management of the COVID-19 health crisis?

The hospital space that was made available from March 2020 to date allowed us to provide care to those who needed an intensive care unit (ICU) or to be hospitalized, whether due to COVID-19 or not. At the start of the pandemic, Colombia had 5,346 ICU beds, and as of May 2021, we have 12,997 beds, with this figure continuing to increase. This indicator allows us to determine that the crisis management has been appropriate and demonstrates the entire health sector’s commitment, both public and private, to face the pandemic. Additionally, we began with only one reference laboratory for COVID-19 analyses. Now, we have 172 laboratories across the country allowing us to carry out 65,000 tests per day. When the first case arrived in the country, we issued regulations and biosecurity protocols for the new normal brought about by the pandemic. According to this data and other noteworthy actions, our assessment of the response to the pandemic has been favorable and positive and was even recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO). Due to the solid management of the current health emergency, WHO has entrusted us with the presidency of the PAHO Board of Directors and the co-presidency of COVAX.

What has been the government’s strategy, and what notable ministry actions were carried out to help Colombia throughout the pandemic?

Several strategies were put in place to manage the pandemic. At first, a territorial plan was defined to control COVID-19, with guidelines for prevention, containment, and mitigation. When the virus arrived in Colombia, we introduced several measures, including a mandatory preventive isolation with which we began preparing the entire health system; a flexible preventive isolation with the opening of certain productive sectors; and, subsequently, a responsible isolation and the opening of most social sectors and businesses. The Program for Testing, Follow-up, and Sustainable Selective Isolation (PRASS) was implemented based on a quick and appropriate identification and isolation of contacts of suspected COVID-19 cases. On February 17, in order to turn the page on COVID-19, the National Vaccination Plan against COVID-19 was launched, and it has advanced at a solid pace in terms of vaccinating healthcare personnel and adults over the age of 60. As of May 2021, we have started our third stage of immunization, including people aged between 50 and 59, those with risk comorbidities, and other specific groups. Thus far, 7.4 million doses have already been administered, and there are over 3 million doses to be administered in the territories. The vaccination rate is continuously accelerating; 29 days were spent administering the first million, 13 for the second million, 11 for the third and fourth million, 10 for the fifth million, and six days for the sixth and seventh million.

How does the ministry liaise with international organizations to share knowledge and coordinate efforts?

The general directorates of international organizations such as WHO, ORAS, OAS, and so on are charge of following up on the mitigation initiatives carried out in countries. At the same time, they act as a technical secretariat and channel information to the health ministries or secretariats of countries. If these international organizations do not have general directorates (such as PROSUR and Pacific Alliance), they have a pro tempore presidency that is exercised on a rotating basis by the member countries. They are responsible for channeling technical requests from countries and promoting and leading face-to-face and virtual spaces for the exchange of experiences and knowledge, based on the objectives and goals set by the organization or regional integration mechanism. Finally, each country has a focal point that heads the international cooperation office of each country. They coordinate the countries’ participation in different meetings and follow up on the programs and project development within the framework of international organization.

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