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close this bookThe Nutrition and Health Transition of Democratic Costa Rica (INFDC, 1995, 228 p.)
close this folder1. Health policies and strategies
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentA brief description of Costa Rica
View the documentPublic health development
View the documentThe decade of the 1970s
View the documentThe decade of the 1980s
View the documentFinal reflections
View the documentReferences

A brief description of Costa Rica

Costa Rica was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1502; it became politically independent in 1821, and started its life as a republic in 1825. The first heads of government were school teachers. The Costa Rican territory has an area of 51,100 km² and is located on the isthmus of Central America (Figure 1). In 1992, it had approximately 3 million inhabitants, mostly whites and mestizos; other races represent less than 5% of the population and show a strong trend towards integrating with the rest. Around 10% of the total population consists of immigrants and Central and South American refugees.

The Costa Rican economy is based on agricultural products, such as coffee, bananas, sugar, and meat. A light industry has emerged in the past 20 years, and tourism has been developing recently. The country is known for having a well-established Western democratic political system, which has been interrupted only twice in the last 100 years. All governments have stressed education and health, which has resulted in a literacy rate of less than 10% and one of the lowest overall mortality rates in the world. Thanks to the convergence of these factors and the historical evolution of the country, Costa Ricans share a strong spirit of solidarity and a deep respect for law, social justice, and freedom. The constitutional abolishment of the army in 1949 made possible a further increase in social sector investment. Law enforcement and security were turned over to a civilian police force, which comes under the Supreme Electoral Tribunal during election periods and changes every four years with the government.

FIGURE 1. Map of Central America

In the 1970s, there was a sharp increase in the country's commitment to making health services available to everyone. This emphasis on investment in health is another feature that distinguishes Costa Rica.

Table 1 presents some milestones of Costa Rican history.