By TBY | Qatar | Jun 15, 2014
Universal healthcare coverage is evolving rapidly under a mixed public-private model.
Qatar aims to expand the number of health centers, hospitals, and beds in line with the needs of the population, given growth trends and distribution patterns. The Supreme Council of Health (SCH) cooperates with the Qatar Foundation (QF) to hasten the setting up of specialized public health centers to both treat and study problems connected to reproductive health issues, particularly low fertility rates, and abortion. The push to develop health services is driven by need—according to UN statistics, Qatar had the world’s fastest-growing population from 2000 to 2010. The population at end-2013 was 2.05 million, and is projected to grow by between 9% and 24% by the year 2015—the growth rate has slowed, so the lower figure seems more likely, which is nonetheless high compared to more demographically stable countries. Average life expectancy in 2009 was 76.2 years, up 2.4% since 2001. Qatar is unusual in having non-citizens vastly outnumber citizens, with only about one-eighth of the population being native Qatari. The non-Qatari population is dominated by working age males, who outnumber females four to one. The WHO considers income as a key determinant of health, and in that regard Qatar has a big advantage, with the IMF in 2011 ranking Qatar as having the world’s highest GDP per capita in PPP terms. The wealth factor works on macro and micro levels: a country with high GDP has the resources to invest in public health services, and the people have resources to pay for greater levels of healthcare. The Qatari population’s distinct health issues are high rates of obesity and diabetes.
Since the turn of the millennium, Qatar has succeeded in spreading health service infrastructure to different parts of the country, and increasing medical staff in accordance with international standards of quality. The latest figures from SCH, for 2012, show that the health sector is progressing rapidly, with 4.1 doctors per 1,000 people, six public and four private hospitals, just over 2,000 hospital beds, 30 primary healthcare centers, and 317 polyclinics. The SCH reports nearly 25,000 health professionals working in Qatar, up 31% from 2009, with most of the growth in the private sector. The explosion in healthcare is so new that the government has not yet been able to incorporate private sector records into its database. While the government hospitals account for 80% of acute care beds in Qatar, a decline in usage of such beds is only estimated to be caused by a turn to private facilities.
The government hospitals, managed by Hamad Medical Corporation, include Hamad General Hospital, Rumailah Hospital, Women’s Hospital, Psychiatric Hospital, the Primary Health Care Centers, and Al Khor Hospital. Private hospitals include the American Hospital, Al-Emadi Hospital, Doha Clinic Hospital, and Al Ahli Hospital. HE Abdulla bin Khalid Al-Qahtani, Minister of Health & Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Health, told TBY, “Some of the successes that the public will soon see are the launching of an appointment system to make a more efficient use of time, the opening of 18 new health centers, an increase in the number of rehabilitation beds available across Qatar, and the opening of a new physical medicine and rehabilitation hospital with 200 beds in 2015.”
The debate over public versus private healthcare is keen in Qatar, where the lion’s share of growth in recent years has been in the private sector. Public and private healthcare is highly subsidized, and the country has had to struggle to keep up with demand. Qatar still lags the OECD average in hospital bed density, for example, with Qatar model population figures of 21.6 beds per thousand people versus the OECD average of 50.8. The GCC average is 18.1 beds per thousand population. The growth in foreign university campuses and the concomitant increase in academic research establishments have helped set the healthcare sector on a path of advanced development. The SCH frames the health research agenda within the government’s ambitious program to devote 2.8% of GDP to research, ensuring that biomedical research, clinical research, and public health research activities comply with the highest scientific standards and practices.