While Colombia is experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic in many of the same ways as other Latin American countries, one city is standing out as an example of how to mitigate the impacts of the virus. Medellín, Colombia’s 2nd largest city, is being referred to as a “Medical Marvel” due to having had only four deaths in a city of 2.5 million, as the AP’s Christine Amario reported On June 13. This impressive statistic is the result of the quick and early actions taken by Medellin’s Mayor, Daniel Quintero.

Mayor Quintero has acted earlier and faster than any other mayor in the country. When he began preparing the city in late January, detractors called him paranoid. When no cases appeared throughout the country by late February, Quintero wondered if his critics were right. Nonetheless, when the first 5 cases appeared in the province he locked the entire region down five days earlier than most of the country.

Medellín's Tech-Savvy Mayor, Daniel Quintero

Medellín’s Tech-Savvy Mayor, Daniel Quintero

He has taken another big step that has raised attention worldwide, i.e., collecting lots of data through the widespread use of an app he launched called “Medellin Me Cuida” (Medellin Takes Care of Me). This app, criticized by many as an invasion of privacy, is credited by the same critics as having proved effective in containing the virus. Why? Simply put, Big Data.

Big Data is a term used to describe the use of enormous data sets that may be analyzed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions. It is what drives the transformation towards smart cities, and Medellin has been recognized by experts as a benchmark for measuring a city’s vision and progress towards transformation. It also has far-reaching potential in other areas, especially agriculture.

Quintero’s health administration has used this voluntary app to assemble data on 3.25 million Colombians, tracking essential health information necessary to ID, quarantine, socially distance, trace, and ensure care to all who are exposed to or contract COVID-19. The patterns, trends, and associations uncovered using the large data set generated by “Medellin Me Cuida” has allowed Medellin’s medical workers to conduct 40 COVID-19 tests for each case diagnosed, over double the national average.

A strong sense of social responsibility has helped keep cases down

A strong sense of social responsibility has helped keep cases down

This application of Big Data to track the personal health, purchasing patterns, and movement of citizens is raising concern about “Big Brother” and the potential loss of personal freedom. Its success and speed in mitigating the spread of COVID-19, however, is not to be disputed.

Smart cities are a hot topic worldwide these days, and Medellin s a clear example. The city’s progress towards this vision has been on the mayor’s agenda, regardless of political party, for 5 consecutive terms, including Daniel Quintero’s.

Before Medellin’s Smart City journey began it was renowned for its poverty, narcotics-related crime, and despair. FDI was at an all-time low. Today, however, the homicide rate compared to 1993 has been reduced by a factor of 20. Poverty has been reduced by almost 66%. Access to free education is universal. All residents have access to basic services, such as health care, transportation, and various economic, online, and cultural opportunities at no or minimal cost. And FDI has been continually on the rise.

Medellin has been recognized as one of the world's smartest cities

Medellin has been recognized as one of the world’s smartest cities

So, Daniel Quintero, Medellin Me Cuida, and Big Data may all play a key role in creating efficiencies in the Colombian markets. Big Data analytics and Smart City technology may lead to more FDI, increased profitability for producers and marketers, higher crop yields, higher rates of compliance with government regulations, reduced poverty and crime, and lower prices for domestic consumer goods.

Despite concerns about the invasion of privacy, Medellín’s response to the COVID-19 situation has been exemplary. The city’s success was summed up in a statement by Robert Henao, economist and head of the University of Medellin’s Smart City department: “Medellin’s vision of itself as a smart city broke from the usual paradigms of hyper-modernization and automation. It replaced them with a more anthropocentric vision of the city’s future.”

Medellín’s quick and decisive response to the pandemic didn’t just happen by chance – it was the product of decades of visionary thinking that have transformed the city from a war-torn slum to an leading hub for technology and innovation. As the crisis begins to cool, people will look to Medellín as example of forward-thinking leadership , and the city’s future looks brighter than ever.

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