Oman has already achieved a number of milestones in the healthcare sector, not least of all reducing the infant mortality rate significantly and all but eradicating preventable disease. As a pioneer in the GCC, Oman’s healthcare spending is expected to reach USD4.3 billion by 2020.
The vast majority of Oman’s healthcare services are provided at government-owned facilities. Roughly 83% of hospitals and 92% of beds are government operated, with public funds also accounting for nearly 90% of total healthcare spending year to year. Due to the high quality of public-sector medical services and the free care that is available through generous government support, out-of-pocket expenses account for less than 6% of spending in the country.
Improved services and a growing population have meant that over the past 10 years the sector has seen immense growth. In 2015, the number of hospitals increased to 70, compared with 58 a decade prior, and leading to a 20% increase in the number of available beds. Over the same period, the number of doctors and nurses increased by 200%. In 2005, there were 16.7 doctors and 37 nurses per 1,000 people, while in 2015 those statistics had increased to 21.4 and 46.3, respectively. Top medical talent continues to flock to Oman, as opportunities are opening up for young people and experienced professionals alike. Oman’s medical schools graduate about 220 doctors per year, but the Ministry of Health has already set a new target to increase that number to 350 in the medium term.
The government recently approved legislation that will make it mandatory for all residents in Oman to obtain health insurance, which will boost the private and public sectors alike, all while granting expatriates access to some of the best medical services in the region. “I’m confident that the private medical sector will rise to the occasion and ramp up its facilities by building new medical centers and hospitals to capitalize on the influx of new patients,” Dr. K.P. Raman, Chairman of Al Hayat International Hospital explained, in an interview with TBY. Meanwhile, the nascent health insurance sector will face the challenge of determining a new way to calculate premiums as the policy is implemented over the short term.
Aside from the ministry, notable healthcare providers in Oman include the Armed Forces Medical Services, Royal Oman Police Medical Services, Sultan Qaboos University Hospital, Diwan Medical Services, Petroleum Development Oman Medical Services, and a number of private-sector healthcare operators.
Established in 1970, Oman’s Ministry of Health plays an instrumental role in developing and implementing the Sultanate’s health policies and plans, ensuring the availability of quality health services across the country, improving the general health of the population, controlling communicable diseases, developing maternal and children’s healthcare programs, administering education about health, and collaborating with both government and private sector entities to continuously improve Oman’s health.
As the primary healthcare provider for much of the population, the ministry has also seen immense growth over the past five years. In 2010, the ministry employed approximately 4,000 doctors, a figure that has grown to over 8,000 in 2016. “Between 2010 and 2015, we introduced 80 new clinical services, and we opened more than 16 health centers and facilities. We opened a cardiac center in Salalah, in Muscat, we added a genetics center, and we expanded the oncology center,” HE Dr. Ahmed Mohammed Al-Saidi, the Minister of Health of Oman, told TBY. Since 2005, the number of primary healthcare centers operated by the ministry has increased by 42%.
Among its duties as the regulatory body for the sector at large, the ministry has identified a number of areas of improvement for the country in coming years. Specifically, lifestyle habits that have directly influenced the prevalence of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and chronic respiratory diseases, which constitute about 63% of deaths in the country and the GCC, in addition to traffic accidents. “Physical inactivity, unhealthy diets, and tobacco use are chief concerns. We can ask people to be more active physically, but we need to provide them with facilities to go out and exercise,” Minister Al-Saidi explained. In this regard, the ministry stressed the importance of collaborating with other government agencies, as well as the private sector, to provide more opportunities for healthy living in Oman.
TAKEN CARE OF
While the government supports accessible treatment, private Omani hospitals have maintained reputations built on high-quality, specified care, and advanced education programs that help patients understand their health better. Al Hayat International Hospital and Sultan Qaboos University Hospital are two of the leaders in this regard.
Al Hayat International Hospital attributes its success to the time it spends educating patients on their health and dedication to specialized treatment options. “This approach, coupled with our ability to identify talent that ascribe to our treatment philosophy, allowed us to grow from a single doctor cardiology practice to a multi-specialty hospital,” Dr. Raman, Chairman of Al Hayat International, told TBY. Today, the hospital boasts approximately 150 staff, including 80 doctors that practice within the hospital itself. Each staff member is trained to adhere to the tenets of patient satisfaction, best protocols, and service to the community.
Doctors from Sultan Qaboos University Hospital train in specialized fields abroad with the goal of bringing back innovative and advanced medical services to Oman. Dr. Khalifa Nasser Al-Wahaibi, Director General of Sultan Qaboos University Hospital, believes that research is a vital component of the hospital’s role in society, and the curriculum for the hospital’s medical students and residents reflects that principle. “We are engaged in clinical and patient-based research, in addition to basic science research,” Dr. Al-Wahaibi stated, adding, “One of the challenges is the increase in the number of students entering the medical college, because we now require more hospitals and specializations to cater to the teaching of medical students and residents.”
Sultan Qaboos University Hospital works closely with the Ministry of Health and other medical providers throughout the country to set goals and establish collaborative relationships. “We are involved in all the different committees with the ministry, and our doctors give their expertise in all relevant fields, either technical or administrative,” Dr. Al-Wahaibi told TBY.
The year 2015 marked the first royal decree regulating the pharmaceutical industry in Oman. Now, pharmaceutical companies have even more leeway to sell non-prescription products, and in doing so generate more income. As a result, the price of some medicines has decreased by more than 50%. Previously, Oman had one of the highest prices for pharmaceuticals in the region, and more affordable pricing not only benefits local consumers, but adheres to the wider GCC goal of stabilizing the cost of medicine among member states. Experts believe that establishing a healthy pharmaceutical sector in Oman will open up new markets as far afield as East Africa and Iran, in addition to strengthening its position in the GCC. The Ministry of Health welcomes investment in this area, offering plots of land that will one day combine to form a future “medical city.” According to Minister Al-Saidi, there are over 5 million sqm set aside for the construction of new healthcare facilities and logistics support.