|The Nutrition and Health Transition of Democratic Costa Rica (INFDC, 1995, 228 p.)|
|1. Health policies and strategies|
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.
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.