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HEALTH

RANKED: The best hospitals in Spain

Here are the ten best hospitals in Spain, including public and private institutions, according to a new study which ranks the best health centres in the country based on health workers' opinions.

Healthcare workers at the Fundacion Jimenez Diaz hospital in Madrid, widely recognised as the best in Spain.
Healthcare workers at the Fundacion Jimenez Diaz hospital in Madrid, widely recognised as the best in Spain. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

With the Covid-19 pandemic, hospitals have dominated headlines in the last couple of years.

Health workers have also been put under immense amounts of pressure when trying to assist patients with other conditions other than Covid-19.

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But despite the delays that many people have had to endure to be treated in 2020 and 2021, Spain is still widely recognised as having one of the world’s best public healthcare systems.

According to the Hospital Excellence Index, prepared by Spain’s Institute of Governance and Applied Economics Coordinates, there is a hierarchy when it comes to hospitals.

They’ve carried out an analysis of hospitals throughout Spain, both public and private, based on the survey answers of nearly 2,000 health professionals.

They ranked the quality of care, hospital service, patient well-being and satisfaction, innovative capacity, personalised attention and use of resources as well as commitment to quality and sustainability.

Madrid and Barcelona dominate the rankings – see them below:

1. Jiménez Díaz Foundation, Madrid

According to the ranking, the Jiménez Díaz Foundation is the best hospital in Spain. Forbes magazine also included the Foundation in its list of the 20 best hospitals in the world, the only Spanish hospital on the list. 

2. La Paz, Madrid

Madrid also takes the second spot. La Paz is a world class hospital particularly renowned for its specialisms cardiovascular disease, hematology, neonatology and organ transplantation.

3. Gregorio Marañón, Madrid

Another Madrid hospital takes third place . Not only is this Marañón’s first top three ranking, but it is the first time Madrid has rounded out the top three since the rankings began. Marañón ranks first in Spain for Pulmonology and Cardiac Surgery, second in Cardiology and Neurosurgery and third in Endocrinology.

4. Hospital Clínic de Barcelona

A consistent performer in the ranks, last year Newsweek ranked it in the top 25 globally, and the Barcelona-based university hospital is known for its strength in research and teaching.

5. Hospital Universitario Valle de Hebrón, Barcelona

A huge hospital based in Barcelona, the Valle de Hebrón ‘campus’ is split up into five centres, and sees a staggering 1.2 million patients a year.

6. University Hospital Quironsalud, Madrid

One of Spain’s biggest private hospitals, ​​this Madrid centre boasts 39 medical and surgical specialties.

7. La Fe University and Polytechnic Hospital, Valencia

Not only has La Fe moved up a ranking over the last year, but it’s the only non Madrid or Barcelona based hospital in the top 10, and is known not only for seeing thousands of patients a day, but for its strong reputation in research and teaching.

8. Hospital Clínico Universitario San Carlos, Madrid

Another large Madrid based hospital of over 800 beds, it is linked to the famous Complutense University of Madrid.

9. Hospital Ruber Internacional, Madrid

Part of Madrid’s Quironsalud group, Ruber Internacional is an ‘integrated’ hospital that specialises in surgical procedures, and has a renowned International Dermatological Clinic. 

10. Hospital Quirónsalud Barcelona

Rounding out the top 10, Hospital Quirónsalud Barcelona is known for its international approach: they offer multilingual services and have agreements with many of the world’s leading medical insurers.

READ ALSO: What are the best private healthcare options in Spain for Brits?

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HISTORY

How 22 Spanish orphans became ‘the vaccine’ to beat smallpox in the Americas

This is the unlikely story of how in 1803 one doctor, one ship and 22 Spanish orphans serving as human fridges helped the world beat smallpox by carrying out the first international vaccination campaign.

How 22 Spanish orphans became 'the vaccine' to beat smallpox in the Americas

We’re living through a time in history where the emergence and resurgence of viruses is becoming more prevalent, from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic to the appearance of monkeypox, with several cases recently recorded in Spain, Portugal and the UK.

Monkeypox is a similar virus to smallpox, a devastating illness that was finally eradicated in 1980. The virus causes high fever, body aches, headaches and chills, as well as a rash of boils or sores. 

READ ALSO: Eight suspected monkeypox cases detected in Spain

While historians and scientists believe that smallpox has been around for the last 3,000 years, monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks occurred in a group of monkeys kept for research. The first human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The first vaccine

During the 18th century, smallpox was rife throughout the world and was killing millions. It was around this time that English doctor Edward Jenner saw that people who caught the milder bovine virus of cowpox never actually caught the deadlier smallpox.

So in 1796, he took the pus from a cowpox lesion on a milkmaid’s hand and inoculated an eight-year-old boy named James Phipps, rendering him immune to smallpox and creating the world’s first vaccine.

But it was in fact Spain that played a pivotal role in getting this vaccine out to the masses and helping to bring the smallpox virus under control. 

How did they transport vaccines in the 18th and 19th century?

Even today, transporting vaccines proves to be problematic, best evidenced by the specific temperature and storage requirements of some of the Covid-19 vaccines, as well the logistical delays and other distribution obstacles.

But back in the early 19th century, doctors and scientists came up against even more problems.

Health professionals at the time invented an ingenious method of taking the puss-like fluid from the sores of those with cowpox and placing it on a piece of material to dry out.

They would then travel to the next town and mix the dried puss with water, before scratching it into people’s skin to infect them with cowpox, thus protecting them from smallpox.

This method seemed to work in Europe, where distances between towns were relatively close.

The arrival of Spain’s Conquistadores in America led to the spread of viruses such as smallpox among native populations, killing millions, including the Aztecs of present-day Mexico.

However, the vaccine wouldn’t stay fresh long enough to take it further across the seas to the Americas. It wouldn’t even work for distances from one European capital to the next, only from town to town. 

Children become the vaccine carriers

This is where Spain comes in. The colonial power was desperate to send the vaccine over to its South American territories, where the virus was running rampant throughout the population, killing around half of those it infected.

In 1803, a doctor from Alicante in eastern Spain, Francisco Javier de Balmís, came up with a plan and asked Spain’s King Carlos IV, whose own daughter had died of smallpox, to fund a new mission.

His plan was to sail to the Americas with 22 Spanish orphans on board, infecting them with cowpox along the way, a plan that wouldn’t have much chance of being approved in this day and age due to human rights laws, but this was the early 18th century.

Francisco Javier de Balmís was integral in helping the first international vaccine campaign. Source: Foundling / WikiCommons

The cowpox vaccine only survived in the body for up to 12 days, so at the beginning of the journey only two of the orphans were infected with smallpox. Then, ten days later when they were sick enough and had boils all over their skin, doctors on board would lance these sores and infect two more boys. The aim was to keep this going every ten days until they reached South America.

Miraculously, the plan of using the orphans as vessels for the virus worked, and although all the children got sick, none of them died.

By the time the ship docked in Venezuela in March 1804, one boy still had fresh sores and puss which could be used to vaccinate the local population. 

Balmís and his team set about vaccinating the locals straight away and then split up, with half the team travelling through what is today Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia and the other half up to Mexico.

Amazingly, using this method of lancing boils and moving from town to town, they managed to vaccinate around 200,000 people, most of whom were children.

Locals who received news of their arrival would greet the heroes with all the flamboyance of a Spanish fiesta – complete with music, bullfights and fireworks. 

The mission was not yet complete

Balmís left the 22 original orphans with adoptive families in Mexico and then set out on a new voyage with a brand new set of children for the Spanish colony of the Philippines.

The ship arrived in April 1805 and again astonishingly the plan worked. Here, Blamís and his team were able to vaccinate a further 20,000. 

This vaccination plan was so successful again, that Balmís took the vaccine to China to keep inoculating the population there too. 

Thanks to the ingenious methods of one Spanish doctor and the bravery of 22 Spanish orphans, Jenner’s original vaccine was able to reach the far corners of the world, vaccinating hundreds of thousands and saving countless lives. 

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