“Frequent hand washing, sneezing or coughing into your forearm or using a tissue as a permanent habit and not just measures to prevent AH1N1 flu.” This text is from a 2009 report, written by the journalist Vanessa Loaiza.
The source for this information: Daniel Salas Peraza, a doctor who at that time was already working at the Ministry of Health, as director of Mercadotecnia (marketing).
Today, the epidemiologist and head of the Ministry of Health commands the actions to control and mitigate the covid-19 pandemic. And one of his messages is still asking, rather imploring, washing our hands and covering when sneezing.
Apparently few are listening.
Salas assumed the Health portfolio in 2018, and today he is facing a pandemic with very different characteristics from those he saw in 2009 with the AH1N1.
How did this 43-year-old man come to command the governing body in health at a key moment?
His path has been long, but constant.
La Nación spoke with María Luisa Ávila and Ana Cecilia Morice, who were the minister and vice-minister of Health, respectively, when Salas was in Mercadotecnia and they know his career well.
Both describe him as a serious person, extremely hard-working and with a big heart. Both refer to him as Dani or Danielito, and they assure that this affection they have for him is similar throughout the ministry.
First steps in immunizations
“Daniel was recommended for Immunizations (the national coordination of Immunizations of the Ministry of Health) when Rocío Sáenz was minister (in the Abel Pacheco government, 2002-2006). We made a very good friendship. He was very serious, very studious, very responsible. He was gaining a lot of experience within the same institution,” highlights Ávila.
Morice complements: “I was out of the country at that time, I think in Colombia. He approached me and introduced himself, he told me that he worked with Immunizations. He seemed to me a super serious young man and eager to learn.”
For Morice, the fact that his first steps were specifically in this area gives him great insight into how epidemiology is applied in the analysis of the country situation and in decision-making.
“Immunizations are not just vaccines. It gives a very big vision. It is to see what the role of immunity is in a community, in a country, how the most vulnerable are protected. The role of immunity as a measure of the health of a population. That is a whole school,” stressed the former vice-minister.
Ávila said that when she arrived at the head of the Ministry in 2006, Salas already had a position close to her office. I was at the Dirección de Promoción de la Salud (Health Promotion Directorate).
“Being there generated a great experience for him at the institution, tools that gave him a lot for what he has to face today,” said the former minister.
Morice agrees: “Promoción de la Salud is not so much education, it was data, he had to analyze how people’s health was to do that promotion. They were not only acute diseases like those of vaccines, now they were also chronic diseases and more difficult to manage.”
A short time later, he arrived at the Mercadotecnia Department. That’s where the AH1N1 pandemic surprised him.
“It is a key job. It’s up to him to change attitudes, change practices, connect with people. These tools are undoubtedly very useful to him today,” says Morice.
For Ávila, the work accomplished in the previous pandemic in this area helped him a lot.
“He did a remarkable job with AH1N1 … He did a lot, he was a person always ready to collaborate, “stressed the ex-hierarch.
A surveillance exercise
When he took over the role of Minister, Salas was the director of Health Surveillance. There he carved the weapons that today allow him to know how to also lead this issue.
Public health surveillance is responsible for collecting, analyzing, interpreting, updating and disseminating data on different diseases and health conditions. Watch for outbreaks or epidemics, or to see numbers of chronic noncommunicable diseases on the rise. Based on this, decisions are made and public health policies are drawn up.
Both interviewees agree that Salas is an ideal person for the position of Minister and that he has known how to make decisions.
“Luckily he accepted. I know he did it because he knows the commitment to the country. I know that he is confident of everything he has learned in this time,” says Morice.
Ávila concludes: “I like that they are letting him work. Daniel has an important role. He is the visible face of the fight in Costa Rica with the pandemic. The President of the Republic recognizes that Daniel is the one who knows and is letting him work, that is vital”.
Ministry of Public Health
The Ministry of Health is the Costa Rican ministerial portfolio in charge of ensuring public health. Its duties include managing the country’s health system, supervising public hospitals and the Costa Rican Social Security Fund (CCSS), known popularly as the “Caja”, as well as issuing health permits for businesses, and public events.
The majority of businesses and public establishments must comply with the regulations that the ministry requests in the proper resources for opening premises and corporate groups, to provide a service suitable for the health and stability of the Costa Rican public citizen.
Likewise, this group administers the CCSS to promote and offer comprehensive care for the inhabitants, through various methods and programs that the Ministry develops. These programs include control plans against drug addiction, smoking, and alcoholism, as well as the promotion of a healthy lifestyle and outside of diets and routines outside of being healthy.