By TBY | Azerbaijan | Jun 26, 2014
Azerbaijan's healthcare sector is emerging as a hotbed for investment thanks to government reforms, coupled with a need for expertise, equipment, and personnel.
Azerbaijan has 32,300 physicians, or 35 per 10,000 people, as well as 57,500 paramedics, or 62.3 per 10,000 people. These serviced 539 hospitals as of end-2013, which contain 43,200 beds, or 46.3 per 10,000 people. Approximately 5,900 of those beds are for children, while 4,300 are for natal care. Azerbaijan also has 1,725 outpatient departments, with a capacity for 105,500 visits per shift. Of that 1,725, approximately 150 are antenatal clinics and antenatal clinics attached to other enterprises, while 275 are children’s polyclinics, out-patient clinics, or clinics and wards attached to other establishments. In this area, the Ministry of Health has attached special importance. “The improvement of the quality of mother and child services represents one of the priorities of the country’s social policy,” said Oqtay Shiraliyev, Minister of Health. He went on to explain the need to tackle key issues, such as the rise in Caesarean operations over recent years; “Certain amendments have been introduced to the law to prevent such operations in the absence of medical problems,” the Minister continued.
In 2013, 81 medical facilities were built and renovated, including the Baku Health Center, the opening of which was attended by President Aliyev. Also opening their doors were the Surgical Clinic of the Azerbaijan Medical University, Sumgayit City Hospital No.1, and central hospitals in Astaram Agjabadi, Jalilabad, Lankaran, and Yevlakh. This is part of a plan to see Azerbaijan’s medical facility stock grow following the closure of many inadequate facilities in 2011. Elsewhere, AZN80.1 million was spent over 2013 as part of government programs to boost work in oncology, renal insufficiency, diabetes, thalassaemia, hemophilia, infant and mother mortality, and immunoprophylaxis. Investment of its kind if nothing new in Azerbaijan; “The treatment of patients suffering from these conditions has produced positive results,” said the Minister, adding that, “in the past 10 years alone the mortality rate from thalassaemia has dropped to a fifth of what it was, and that of diabetes and tuberculosis has diminished by a factor of 2.6. Deaths as a result of hemophilia have been halved.”
The introduction of e-services has also marked the sector’s drive for modernity, with 28 services introduced through the Ministry’s website in 2013. Those services include a system of electronic control over the activities of medical institutions and the central recruitment of medical personnel, along with a system to monitor infectious diseases and the circulation of medicine. An ambulance dispatcher service has also been commissioned, according to the Minister.
R&D & EDUCATION
There are 2,700 staff at work in research and education in medical institutions across Azerbaijan, including 12 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 171 professors, 261 doctors of medicine, and over 1,200 PhD holders. Over the last decade, 120 doctoral theses and over 600 PhD theses have been defended in the country in this area. Scientific research institutions under the Ministry of Health also completed nine significant projects in the medical science field over 2013. In 2012, 1,088 people graduated from higher educational institutions with medical specializations. A further 1,726 graduated from secondary medical education institutions. These numbers are crucial for Azerbaijan, which has long dealt with a shortage of qualified medical staff for both treatment and research. Some of those who can afford to still cross into neighboring countries, such as Iran, for treatment; in 2012, 1,600 Azerbaijanis went to Iran daily for procedures. Rising healthcare spending, which reached almost $800 million in 2013, will also be key to building up a solid domestic system. Spending remains low, however, compared to GDP, with an estimated 62% of fees paid out-of pocket (OOP).
Of the 62% of medical fees paid OOP by the public, 70% is spent on pharmaceuticals, which Azerbaijan imports predominantly from abroad. “Since domestic medicine production is practically absent in our country, more than 99% of local demand is met by imports” the Minister told TBY. There are 70 distributors, dealers, and other organizations involved in the wholesale trade of pharmaceuticals, with around 1,800 pharmacies serving the public. The state sets the price of certain pharmaceuticals, and has currently approved 4,000 drugs for sale. Imported medicine from the US and Europe is preferred in the country, although cheaper generics arrive from Turkey, Iran, India, Ukraine, and Russia.
Government healthcare spending is set to continue rising in Azerbaijan, while the potential for investment remains high as facilities look abroad for medical equipment and medicine. Keeping graduates engaged domestically will be key in the upcoming years, but the prospect of working in state-of-the-art facilities will likely help to swell the number of medical staff at work across the country.