Where does Colombia’s healthcare system stand in 2023?

By Daniel Tovar May 31, 2023

Three years have passed since the March that marked the most drastic change humanity has experienced in the 21st century, as the global health system was forced to adapt to sudden changes that emerged as the COVID-19 virus spread. Today, the pandemic has finally been controlled and we are back to normal, but how prepared is the healthcare system for the next pandemic? 

After months of anticipation, Colombia confirmed its first recorded case of COVID-19 on March 6, 2020. In the three years since that date, over 6 million cases have been registered, the fourth-highest in Latin America.

Fortunately, the number of recovered patients far exceeds the number of losses, thanks in part to the national response that took place after the first case appeared in Colombia. 

Many efforts were made to prevent the spread of the virus, protect the vulnerable and provide care to those who did contract the virus. Immediate measures included a six-month lockdown plan to control the rate of infections, closing land, sea, and air borders during the peak of the pandemic, and improving the availability of telemedicine services to protect the country’s healthcare system and limit the movement of infected patients.

By March 1st, 2021, Colombia had become the first country in Latin America to receive COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX Facility. 117,000 doses were distributed on that first wave through a nationwide vaccination program. 

With infection rates in 2023 under control and preventive social distancing rules lifted across Colombia, COVID-19 is no longer a pressing threat. However, though the healthcare sector managed to guide the country through the worst of the pandemic, how prepared is Colombia’s healthcare system for another pandemic? 

Healthcare reforms on the horizon 

Colombia boasts an excellent healthcare system, recognized by the World Health Organization as the 22nd best in the world, ranking it above the United States and Canada. However, COVID-19 shone a spotlight on how unexpected healthcare emergencies could push the service to its limits. 

And it seems that the country’s President sees room for improvement. President Petro recently announced a number of reforms that, according to his cabinet, the Colombian healthcare system requires.

These reforms include the proposal of a new approach to the core of the healthcare system: the creation of a National Health System based on a social security model, to be financed mainly by the State. 

According to President Petro’s speech, this reform hopes to achieve two main goals: to help health workers get more protection, better rights, and better salaries and to eradicate the irregularities that currently plague the system, such as inequality for minority communities.

This is a situation that is compounded by corruption scandals and placing of economic interests before the health of patients.

“What we want is for doctors to be able to go anywhere in the country and care for anyone, for the country to be organized in such a way that its people, its inhabitants, can always be cared for by healthcare professionals,” said Petro during his presentation to the Colombian Congress

The rise of international investment 

As mentioned, Colombia’s healthcare system ranks highly on a global scale. This has helped to attract the attention of international investors and support a thriving ecosystem of healthcare startups.

Source Meridian Founder Mike Hoey

Mike Hoey is one of those who saw an opportunity in Colombia, expanding his healthtech company in Medellin ten years ago. Source Meridian empowers the growth of the health sector by providing effective software and emerging tech solutions to the life science and healthcare industries, among others.

Another instance can be found with the multinational Linzor. During the middle of the pandemic the company decided to invest in Colombia and bought almost all the shares of Sies Salud, a company dedicated to primary health services and specialized in the care of HIV patients.

Thanks to this new investment, Sies Salud plans to upgrade its infrastructure and services to meet the needs of the Colombian market. 

These examples highlight the positive impact that private sector companies have helped to deliver for Colombia.

Where healthcare could head next 

Colombia has proven to be at the top of its game when it comes to healthcare, improving its national systems, and strengthening its products and services thanks to foreign investment.

Only time will tell whether the proposed reforms will benefit the country in the long run, but in the meantime, the industry will require the support of both the government and international community.

This article includes a client of an Espacio portfolio company