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BMJ. Jul 6, 2002; 325(7354): 10.
PMCID: PMC1169366

Bogotá launches health tourism project

The city authorities in Bogotá have launched an ambitious project designed to convince their fellow Latin Americans that, despite the city's reputation for violence, visiting the Colombian capital can actually be good for their health.

The Capital Health project plans to capitalise on Bogotá's high quality medical services to attract patients to the city from neighbouring countries such as Ecuador, Venezuela, and Panama. The long term aim is to establish the city as Latin America's premier healthcare centre.

At present Latin Americans needing specialist care unavailable in their own countries have to travel, if they can afford it, to Miami or Cuba. Bogotá's city authorities believe that the demand exists for high quality health services on the South American continent and that they have the infrastructure in place to benefit from this gap in the market.

The chief adviser to Bogotá's health secretariat, Dr Maria Luisa Latorre, said that an initial promotional campaign in Ecuador in May had proved such a success that Capital Health is now looking to open a permanent office in Quito. "We are primarily marketing Bogotá on the basis of the quality of our health services, but we are certainly very competitive in price terms compared to Miami and we offer a different selection of treatments to those on offer in Cuba," Dr Latorre said.

Bogotá's ophthalmology clinics already enjoy a good reputation for their pioneering use of new technology, and the city also has world class facilities in areas such as fertility treatment, prosthetics, cancer treatment, transplantations, cardiovascular medicine, and plastic surgery. In its promotional material Capital Health notes that Latin America's first baby born after in vitro fertilisation was born in Bogotá and that the city also has the region's most advanced blood bank and transfusion centre.

Capital Health is backed by a partnership between the city's health secretariat, its culture and tourism department, Bogotá's Chamber of Commerce, and the Colombian Export Association. The partners have spent the last two years choosing the companies that will take part in the scheme and creating a package of services that includes everything from flights, hotels, and medical attention through to city tours and theatre tickets for accompanying family members.

All the 23 hotels involved in the project have agreed to modify their rooms to meet patients' special needs, while even guides in the city will be given basic medical training. "Our idea is to promote tourism to Bogotá as well as our health services," Dr Latorre said.

The Colombian capital has undergone a quiet renaissance in recent years, and the idea of attracting tourists to Bogotá is no longer the joke it would have seemed in the early 1990s, when the city's rates of crime and violence were among the highest in the world.

Increased investment in preventive medicine, civic education programmes, and anti-crime initiatives have markedly improved residents' quality of life and brought about a 55% fall in the murder rate over the last five years. "We hope the Capital Health project will play an important role in changing the way people think about Bogotá," Dr Latorre said.


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