Towards Equity in Colombia’s Health Policy

Published on October 11, 2018

Minister of Health and Social Protection visits The New School

By Maria Carrizosa, OLA coordinator, Ph.D candidate and International Affairs Teaching Fellow.


Not every day can you sit down with a Minister and openly discuss his views on a country’s policy. On September 26th 2018, the Observatory on Latin America organized a conversation between Juan Pablo Uribe, Minister of Health and Social Protection of Colombia, and a small group of SGPIA faculty and students. The conversation was informal and lively. Minister Uribe, who was appointed a couple of months ago, candidly shared his strategic objectives to improve the health system in the country. He first explained that the main bets of President Ivan Duque’s government are legality, entrepreneurship, and equity. Contrary to what is expected, advances in the first two -legality and entrepreneurship- have not meant advances in the third one -equity. Colombia, he reminded us, is one of the world’s most unequal countries.

By outlining the Ministry’s five strategic objectives, the Minister made his diagnosis of the sector clear,  and where he thinks the emphasis should be placed.

  • The first objective is to reinstate a long-term social contract between the population and the health system, which has been broken due to the system’s profit focus. “A health system owes itself to the people it serves” he insisted.
  • His second point was about the quality of care. “The Ministry of Health became the Ministry of Health Financing. Where did quality care actually go in Colombia’s health policy?”, he argued.
  • The third objective is making public health really public, that is, aiming for universal coverage, to reach those most isolated and those in poverty, thus improving the health conditions of the population as a whole, beyond the “camouflage of the averages”.
  • Next, he discussed health professionals insisting on the importance of regaining social recognition, visibility, and pride across the sector’s human resources.
  • The final point and decidedly the last one is financial sustainability. Here the challenges are enormous: risk adjustments, accumulated liabilities, rampant corruption, and the high costs of the judiciary interpretation of the “right to health”.

 The varied group of attendees raised interesting questions that gave way to further comments, like the relationship between the peace talks and the health system. Minister Uribe and his Chief of Staff Camilo Arenas also explained why it is such a priority for Colombia and the region to address the Venezuelan migration crisis before the feeling of solidarity begin to decline. There are now more than 1.25 million Venezuelans in Colombia, according to the official registry, this has meant a surge in demand for health services of 8-10% in some cities.

Dr. Juan Pablo Uribe is an experienced national and international civil servant, consultant, and lecturer. In Colombia, he has worked as Director of Fundación Santa Fe de Bogotá Hospital, Deputy Minister of Health, Health Director of the Corona Foundation, among other positions. Internationally, he has worked as Health Manager for the East Asia and Pacific Region and as senior Health Specialist for the Latin America and the Caribbean Region at the World Bank. He serves in boards of various health organizations (ICONTEC, GPOBA, and IHF). Minister Uribe holds a master’s degree in Public Health and another one in Public Administration from University of Michigan. He has also had teaching positions at Universidad Javeriana, Universidad de Los Andes, and Santo Tomás University in Bogotá.