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Patricia Figuera

Patricia Figuera

With a degree in Social Communications and over sixteen years experience in Journalism and Corporate Communications, Patricia Figuera specialices in health, sports and economy publications. She is Venezuelan, mother, ex-athlete of high competence (member of the National Swimming Team of Venezuela), lover of reading and number one fan of her children.

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100 years of Panama Canal Influence on the Public Health of the Americas

  • Published in Business

The Panama Canal is renowned worldwide for the tremendous commercial impact it has made for the countries that use it. It is also the main source of income for the Republic of Panama.

Since the grand opening of this unique interoceanic waterway one hundred years ago on August 15, 1914, the Panama Canal has had a huge impact on world trade by shortening the distance of travel between trading nations. The opening of the Panama Canal sparked a worldwide explosion of commercial and economic exchange by offering a shorter route and cost effective trade between nations.

The result has been a decisive influence on the patterns of world commerce that has stimulated the economic growth of both developed and lesser developed nations. The Panama Canal has also provided the sought after stimulus for economic growth in even the most remote regions of the world.

In 2007, the Republic of Panama began construction of a new set of locks that would accommodate the interoceanic transit of Post Panamax ships. At a cost of more than 5 billion US dollars, once completed the new locks will keep pace with the future of interoceanic trade and allow commerce to continue its growth worldwide.

On August 15, 2014, the world celebrated the 100 year anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal and all the benefits to world trade that have resulted. That date also marked the 100 year anniversary of the influence of the Panama Canal on the public health of the Americas.

Early historical documents paint a picture of the isthmian region that is in stark contrast to what we find today. For centuries prior to the Panama Canal, the isthmus of the Americas was a place of widespread transmittable diseases that made the countries in the region inhospitable to humans. Often leading to death, such diseases included not only malaria and yellow fever, but also pneumonia, tuberculosis, nephritis, dysentery, typhoid, diarrhea in children, and leprosy.

Discovering how to control and eventually eradicate the spread of many of these diseases became a primary concern for canal engineers who knew that the construction and successful completion of the Panama Canal depended on it. The result was a major initiative to create a public health and sanitation program that included providing the isthmian population with sewage treatment, water drainage, clean potable water, more water wells, and even sidewalks with gutters. All of these measures were new to the region, but they generated a huge impact on the country’s health as a nation. It is important to remember that many of the early sanitation efforts were aimed at successfully completing the Panama Canal, and these early efforts were the beginnings of good health and sanitation that exist throughout the Americas today.

On May 29th of this year, Dr. Jorge A. Motta, research associate at the Gorgas Health Institute, was a forum speaker at the 100 Years of the Panama Canal: A Centennial of Contributions to Global Health conference. Noting the nation’s socio-economic status, Dr. Motta stated that between 1904 and 1916, the main causes of death in hospitals in the region were due to yellow fever, tuberculosis, malaria, trauma, nephritis, dysenteries, heart diseases, typhoid, diarrhea in children, and cancer.

The Rise, Decline, and Legacy of Yellow Fever
In a forum organized by the University of South Florida, Dr. John McNeil from Georgetown University stated that yellow fever was first introduced to the region through the European plantation agriculture system of growing sugarcane for export and also the building of harbored cities in Panama City and Colon. The disease, however, proliferated out of control because of the region’s warm and wet climate. That climate was a favorable to the disease vector soon discovered to be a particular breed of mosquito.

Dr. McNeil further stated that the human costs of yellow fever were always high. Between 1647 and 1905, thousands of young teenagers lost their lives to the disease. Death rates were particularly high in clustered populations, such as cities, army installations, and among ships crew. However, people born and raised in less populated endemic zones were less affected by the disease.

During the French attempt at building the Panama Canal between 1882 and 1889, yellow fever accounted for 25% of the annual mortality rate among European labor, while labor from Jamaica and Barbados were far less affected.

In 1881, Cuban researcher Dr. Carlos Juan Finlay hypothesized that the disease was transmitted by means of an intermediary agent identified as the Aedes Aegypti mosquito. Finlay announced his hypothesis at the International Health Conference in Washington DC.

Later that same year, Dr. Finlay proved his hypothesis through experiments with Cuban volunteers, and notably observed that individuals who were bitten only once by an infected Aedes Aegypti developed an immunity to some of the symptoms of yellow fever. This observation led to the development of a serum to combat yellow fever.

For almost 20 years, Dr. Finlay’s research went virtually ignored by the scientific community, until the end of the Spanish American War, when Cuba’s Governor Leonard Wood called for a more detailed review of Finlay’s research and continued experimentation.

In December 1898, Dr. William Crawford Gorgas was named Cuba’s Superior Health Chief, and the Commission on Yellow Fever was directed to continue Finlay’s groundbreaking discoveries. The commission set about to isolate infected individuals and to eradicate the Aedes Aegypti mosquito through public works projects. In less than 8 months, the prevalence of yellow fever virtually disappeared from Cuba.

Dr. Gorgas was then sent to the Panamanian Isthmus to apply the same procedures that had proven to be so effective in Cuba. The procedure worked a second time, allowing the Panama Canal to be completed. A plaque stands today on the grounds of the Panama Canal Administration Building commemorating Dr. Finlay’s early discoveries and his contribution in the construction of this world class mega project.

The strategies and methods to fight malaria and yellow fever that were so successful in Panama were replicated in other parts of the region with equal results.

The Legacy of Other Public Health Interventions
Dr. Motta also stated that the arrival of Dr. Gorgas signaled the beginning of not only eliminating the threat of malaria and yellow fever on the isthmus but also to provide first class hospital care for infected individuals. Hospital Santo Tomas soon went into full operation caring for canal workers as well as people of from all walks of life, and this had a great impact on the health and well being of the nation as a whole.

Other public health projects that quickly got underway were Panama’s first clean water plant, sewage treatment facilities, and a system for garbage collection.

Public Health Policy
Many of the policies, projects, and strategies improving public health in Panama at the time of the construction of the Panama Canal were replicated in other counties in the region. Dr. Mirta Rose Periago, Director Emeritus of the Pan American Health Organization , says that Panama’s role as a model for other nations should never change.

In a forum moderated by Dr. Periago, entitled Innovative Interventions to Create Adequate Public Policies that Guarantee Improvements to the Regional Health Index, Dr. Periago stated that Panama’s health policy objectives at the beginning of 20th Century were to control transmittable diseases so that Panama could empower a global market and aid the development of other nations. However, Dr. Periago went further to say that in the 21st Century the focus of politics and policy should be on maintaining the free and healthy circulation of people now that Panama has become an important transit zone.

The Republic of Panama’s public health policies are now a legacy, and the legacy continues more than a century later. Since 2005, health and safety along the Panama Canal has been guided by International Health Regulations, which has made Panama the sentinel for public health in international events and assures the good health of Panama’s citizenry, labor force, and tourists by promoting research and sharing information. In so doing, health and safety in Panama continue to be a top priority for the nation, the region, and the world that transits the Panama Canal.

In his commemorative speech at the 100 Years of the Panama Canal: A Centennial of Contributions to Global Health conference, Dr. Jorge A. Motta stated, “Public health improvements have become one of Panama’s greatest legacies over the past century. Without health, the Panama Canal would not have been completed successfully. Without health, we could not have built the country we wanted.” One hundred years of Panama Canal influence on the public health of the Americas continues.


Boquete: A destination in the Health Tourism World

An article by Thalia Velasquez - The Wellness Pundit

It is so unfortunate that we humans tend to abuse our bodies, exposing ourselves to all kinds of stress and toxins. It is our tendency to consume without limits while our bodies withhold all the pressures of this lifestyle. This applies to all food, beverages, the pollution in the air and water, the lack of physical activities and working too much. this makes us feel anxious due to lack of time to achieve all our goals. The famous Mr. Time, who seems to always go against us.


Panama's Health Care GROWS

  • Published in Business

Panama is undergoing a remarkable boom in new health care infrastructure, driven by an ever-growing health sector that focuses on high-quality services and patient care. Supplementing this growth is an increased spending in medical tourism, a rising rate of immigration and a construction boom in the residential and commercial sectors. With all the makings of a growing metropolis, growing traffic and massive expansion towards the city outskirts, Panama’s health sector answers the call for action in bringing quality health care to its growing population and visitors where needed the most.

In the past couple of years, companies in the construction industry have invested in the development of real estate destined to serve as comprehensive health care facilities. Their plan responds to the current needs of a local and foreign population eager to have access to good quality and timely health services. Panama’s position as a health care travel destination also underlines the importance of having more facilities to serve international patients comfortably and fittingly.

A quick survey of current projects reveals that in the next three years, Panama city will have four new medical conglomerates: two in the city core and two in its outskirts. There will also be new clinics and a hotel intended for patients only. Added to this, numerous renovations and extensions have been undertaken by well-established and prominent medical centers, hospitals and clinics in the country. Such is the case of the Hospital Nacional’s new medical offices; the Clínica Hospital San Fernando’s new maternity ward; and the Centro Médico Paitilla’s new MRI room, the most state of the art in Panama and Central America. sat down with representatives from the companies developing these medical conglomerates, as well as with experts from the medical tourism industry, in order to discuss the reasons behind this health care boom, their objectives and projections.

The Need To Keep Up
Panama’s construction industry continues to grow at high speed. Shopping malls, offices and housing developments are part of the boom generated by the rapid population growth of both, nationals and newcomers, the latter group having significantly increased in the last few years.

“This population growth has not only boosted the construction sector, but also the health care sector. There are more and more people living in the outskirts of Panama city who need to make long journeys in order to access health services currently offered only in the city; an area where such demand has already increased due to its population density and those arriving for Medical Tourism purposes” says gynaecologist Konstantinos Tserotas, medical director of MedicalPan, the top company in Panama dedicated to quality care for international patients.

According to Tserotas, this creates the need for new health care infrastructure that should be up and running within 2 to 3 years. This is why established hospitals and clinics with years of existence in the national market have been expanding their facilities, while private companies are opting to develop medical offices and comprehensive medical centers.

“The current outlook makes it important to create new care facilities in areas where there were none, as well as in areas where, nowadays, due to growth and development, their populations would not travel far in order to receive primary care. This scenario also encourages doctors to diversify and offer their services from different locations” says Tserotas.

Dr. Tserotas points out how today Medical Tourism also plays a key role behind these needs. “We require new, more specialized medical facilities, hospital clinics and even hotels especially designed to serve the needs of international patients. A good example of such project is The Panama Clinic, a medical complex with medical offices, a hospital clinic and a specialized hotel”

The director of MedicalPan estimates that while the construction of medical offices may reach surpass local requirements at the moment, it is necessary to prepare for the immediate future.

“There’s no shopping spree for health care providers. We can’t hire a large number of doctors just to serve these centers or fill the new medical offices. Medicine is a long-winded career. You need 14 years to be a neurologist and 18 to be a clinical oncologist, to mention a couple. Perhaps these new facilities may be filled by doctors who already have practices in other centers or who would partner with each other in other to serve different areas of the city” says Tserotas.

The Public Sector Also Responds
Tserotas also says that this health care boom not only concerns the private sector, but also the public one. There are more and more foreign nationals, with permanent residence in Panama, who require the health services offered by the Caja de Seguro Social (Social security), the National Oncology Institute and the Health Ministry, among others.

Although growth in the public sector does not match that of the private sector, projects of great magnitude have been launched to offer health care services to more people in the near feature

In May of 2012, work began in the construction of the Ciudad Hospitalaria de Panamá (Panama’s Hospital City), an area covering over 78 Acres. Fifty-four percent of its 1st phase has been completed, while the 2nd phase has already been started, according to the project’s website This project is designed to meet a 5% annual increase in demand of specialized care by new users of the Caja de Seguro Social (Social security).

According to the data referenced above and taking into account current trends, Panama’s Hospital City will have provided approximately 937,528 specialized consultations by the year 2030.

This past September 7, president Juan Carlos Varela announced the move of the National Oncology Institute to Panama’s Hospital City within two years. This will offer more adequately, and to a greater number of patients, the oncological services of the institution. The new location will have 100 additional beds, effectively increasing its capacity to 250 inpatients.

The City As Central Axis
There is no doubt that Panama City is, and will continue to be, the central axis for Medical Tourism in the country. This is due to many factors, which include an advantageous location for easy access and transportation; the quality and cost of products, medical and health services; as well as access to appropriate lodging that matches these services.

This is why developers such as SBA Group have decided to venture in the health sector as a new niche market.

SBA Group’s Panama Medical Center (PMC) project, for instance, will provide more than 86,000 square feet of medical real estate in a centric area, known as a medical district (Justo Arosemena St and 43rd); this is due to neighbouring facilities, such as Hospital Nacional, Hospital del Niño and Hospital Santo Tomas, among other health care centers.

With a nearby subway station, PMC will have a fourteen story multilevel parking (under and above ground), six high capacity elevators and two emergency staircases that will offer doctors and patients the best possible access.

The project will include pharmacy, laboratories, cafeteria and a high-quality imaging laboratory. With medical centers being their main assets, PMC will be able to offer an ambulatory surgical center with the latest cutting edge technologies, as well as modules for different medical specialties. All these characteristics are considered essential for the Panamanian market by the developer.

PMC will not only be a building offering comfortable medical facilities. It is important to mention the architectural and aesthetical aspects of the project, which will feature an imposing glass façade and interior finishes of the highest quality, never before seen in Panama.

“At the moment we have a high level of product due to the number of commercial developments currently underway or about to start. There is more availability in the market at the moment as demand climbs to meet it. However, this is not really a concern as we are confident about the gradual growth of the country,” says SBA Group developer Gabriel Bassan, when referring to the commercial market in Panama.

“We estimate that in three years the country will be balanced in terms of commercial real estate and demand will surge again,” he adds.

With respect to the health market, specifically regarding infrastructure, Bassan believes that there is still a way to go. “We have seen the investment on expansion and improvements that private institutions have done in the past decade, which the country certainly benefits from. Now, however, there are hybrid projects that do not necessarily provide what the market is looking for”.

He considers that having a medical center within a shopping mall has its limitations as data has shown that both doctors and patients prefer their facilities separate from commercial or residential activities. PMC offers precisely that: all facilities are exclusive to the Medical Center.

For Bassan there is no risk in building medical facilities. It is simply a response to a need that must be heeded. He indicates that Panamanians and foreigners, as well as practitioners and patients, deserve facilities in accordance with the growth and trends of the country. “This means being at the forefront in Latin America, not only in terms of services, but also aesthetics, just as our commercial real estate currently is.”

Asked about how space in PMC will be offered to the health market in general, the developer responded emphatically that it is not a project aimed at business investment.

“We have received many investment offers; however, we reserve the right to sell only to doctors or students in process of becoming doctors. The idea is for them to control their market and to eliminate speculation,” says Bassan.

SBA Group plans to deliver the 15 million dollar PMC project in the middle of 2018.

In Bassan’s view, the current growth in Panama’s health care industry is thanks to the private institutions that have worked together with doctors in order to have hospitals, offices, surgical centers and cutting edge services.

“Panama as a medical destination is something that is occurring in recent years, helped by that growth in the health sector. That projection will grow even more. Panama is the hub of the Americas and patients from all around us will want to receive care from our leading doctors. However, for that we need facilities that can go hand in hand with our doctors” highlights Bassan.

Pushing the City Outskirts
More and more residential projects are being built in the outskirts of the city. Areas such as Panama Este and Panama Oeste have middle class and higher middle class neighbourhoods, as well as shopping malls, small and medium businesses. These areas have ceased to be known as bedroom neighbourhoods.

Medical offices are currently being built in areas such as Brisas del Golf and Costa del Este, where there is an important growth in population, as well as commercial and business activities.

The Centro Médico del Este, a pillar of the TownCenter Costa del Este development, could become the new center of activity in Panama. It consists of three towers of seven stories for medical offices and specialized clinics, designed for the comfort of both patients and doctors who choose this as their health care center.

On the first floor, local patients will find a primary care ward, created to offer quick access and complementary clinical services.

Easily accessible, the Centro Médico Costa del Este offers a 4,000 car parking facility, including 2,500 indoor spots. These have quick and easy access to the lobby area, from where offices are reached via high-speed elevators.

The aim of this center is to foster a personalized and comprehensive care of patients. This encompasses prevention, diagnostic, treatment, a results-oriented approach to clinical cases and comprehensive medical collaboration, including management and coordination of services by specialty.

With regards to the commercial market in Panama, José Manuel Bern, VP of Empresas Bern, developer of the Centro Médico del Este, sees high expectations for the health sector due to the optimal growth Panama has undergone in the past 10 years.

“We see many international companies setting up headquarters in Panama, which boosts construction. We think we are experiencing a construction boom at par with the demand, including all related aspects such as offices, apartments, hotels and also the health sector” he offers.

He adds, “The health market in Panama is adapting to changes in a population now interested in prevention, fitness and access to specialized treatment. The leading hospitals are quickly expanding their infrastructure and range of care offerings in order cater to an international audience”.

Bern highlights that seeing the centralization of health care in downtown while the city itself expands towards the outskirts by building all-inclusive residential developments, is the reason behind this project’s genesis. Empresas Bern seized the opportunity of bringing the best possible health care closer to a new, growing segment of the population.


Minimally Invasive Spyne Surgery in Panama

Dr. Andres Baez explain the concept of Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery during a procedure. In this case the procedure is a fully endoscopic discectomy. The procedure is performed with the patient fully awake, on one of the finest operation rooms in Latin America, right in the middle of Panama City, Panama.

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