TBY talks to Dr. Ogtay Shiraliyev, Minister of Health on the progress of health care in Azerbaijan and the rise of private practice.
TBY What progress is being made on healthcare reform, and what are you targeting in the short term?
DR. OGTAY SHIRALIYEV Reform in all spheres, including the medical sphere, is developing rapidly in Azerbaijan. We are upgrading our hospitals and polyclinics by providing them with equipment, heating, and foods that meet our standards. In the past five years, more than 400 new medical establishments have been constructed or renovated. In 2010 alone works on 45 medical establishments were completed by the Ministry of Health and were fully provided with modern equipment and devices. Our priority is to reconstruct the dilapidated system from the inside out. This is being achieved by renovating and constructing new buildings, providing equipment, and raising the level of medical services. Today, these reforms are seen to be successful, and the rapid construction of new medical establishments, the reconstruction and modernization of all available hospitals and polyclinics, and the provision of new equipment are all indicators of progress in our health system. As has always been the case, our target is to provide a basic, universal, and high-quality medical service.
Are healthcare reforms being based to any extent on the success of the health sectors in neighboring countries such as Turkey?
Of course, every country undertaking large-scale reform partially takes lessons from more experienced states in the field. For instance, the certification process we conducted was a new step for our country and we used the practices of other developed countries as well as other examples, such as introducing the idea of a family doctor.
How do you see the role for further international partnerships in health care developing?
In general, the Ministry of Health highly values issues related to personnel. In 2010, 128 Azerbaijani medical workers raised the level of their professional abilities by taking qualifications in clinics abroad to improve their diagnostic skills. A number of agreements have been reached in the field of medical science with some well-known medical universities in several countries to exchange doctors and students. According to these agreements, Azerbaijani students take courses to improve their knowledge in Germany, Turkey, Poland, Russian, Belarus, and Ukraine. At present, approximately 40 medical workers are taking advanced professional courses in clinics in Ankara as part of our medical reform project.
Does the government have any specific plans to reduce Azerbaijan’s reliance on imported medical products by encouraging the construction of new pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities?
Of course, we are considering all of our options. At the same time, it should be noted that importing medicine into our country is currently more beneficial than production from a market point of view.
Private medical services have been limited to small clinics, general practice, and emergency treatment. Is Azerbaijan considering encouraging the development of the private health sector via investment or privatization to improve the level of service?
Private medical establishments are an integral part of the medical sector here in Azerbaijan, as they are all over the world. The Ministry of Health is constantly monitoring conditions in the private medical and pharmaceutical sectors. Currently, there are 252 outpatient, 72 stationary, and 266 dental medical establishments run by the private sector. Moreover, 82 establishments import medical supplies in the pharmaceutical sector and there are 554 private pharmacies. The Ministry of Health is interested in developing the private sector, and conducts meetings and seminars with private sector players and acts as a constant source of advice.
Do you have any plans to increase the ratio of physicians and beds per capita?
On the contrary, we intend to reduce the ratio as part of our reforms. We are looking to optimize bed funding and structure, and close medical establishments that are proven to be superfluous or inadequate. As a result of reforms implemented by us so far, bed stock has been reduced by 40% to 50% on average in order to improve service quality. This work continues in Baku and other cities around Azerbaijan. These reforms are being implemented according to the standard rules seen in EU member states. Furthermore, the level of personnel is sufficient in our country and we find no need to expand staff numbers at the
What projects are currently underway in Azerbaijan with the World Health Organization and UNICEF? What have been the key achievements of these projects so far?
The Azerbaijani medical sector is winning considerable prestige on the international stage after a series of successes. Azerbaijan’s hosting of the WHO’s 61st Regional Committee for Europe indicates that health care in Azerbaijan is held in high esteem by the most advanced states of Europe. The joint business plan with the Ministry of Health and UNICEF for 2011-2012 is aimed at developing and strengthening the health system. Attention will specifically be paid to the delivery quality of medical services, an improved neonatal aid service, and the provision of technical assistance to the government. UNICEF has specified early diagnosis and preventative medicine purposely aimed at children. The universal iodination of salt is also priority area for us.
What are the key public health projects the Health Ministry is currently implementing?
Health care has become a very important national issue recently. In response to this, we have begun a formal accreditation process to ensure all higher or secondary professional educational institutes for medicine and pharmaceutical studies abide by the same standards. This process has been implemented for some months and our medical workers have passed through this process very successfully. After initial certification, there follows a residency stage, before the transition to being a family doctor is allowed. Other projects include signing up to the Bologna Process in medical education and continuing our upgrade program across the health sector.
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