HELPING HANDS

Kazakhstan 2014 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Kenneth Alibek, CEO of National Medical Holding (NMH), on medical tourism, innovation and research, and international partnerships.

Kenneth Alibek
BIOGRAPHY
Kenneth Alibek studied Biological Sciences (Biotechnology), Microbiology and Immunology, and Military Medicine in Russia. He has had a long and distinguished career that started in 1976 at Siberian Branch of the Institute of Applied Biochemistry as Senior Scientist and Lab Chief. Alibek has worked in various educational institutes in various positions, including Moscow State University, Novosibirsk State University, and the Institute of Food Technology. In 1992, he emigrated to the US and continued his career in research and management, including spending six years at George Mason University as Director of the National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases, as well as 10 years as Chief Scientific Officer at AFG Biosolutions. Alibek is currently the CEO of National Medical Holding (NMH).

Will Kazakhstan become a hub for medical technology within Central Asia?

Yes, absolutely. Just recently, the President addressed the topic of medical tourism. One of our objectives is to make our hospitals and centers highly attractive to people from all over Kazakhstan and our region. At this point, in some fields of medicine, we already have certain activities aimed at this goal. For example, in cardiac surgery, we host visitors from diverse countries. We have patients from Russia, the US, Canada, the Middle East, and elsewhere. We plan to broaden this activity and establish special marketing departments and activities in order to provide more information about our capabilities. We can organize medical assistance, both surgical and therapeutic, and, of course, this will raise people's understand that we operate highly sophisticated facilities. Moreover, we have a raft of ideas to render our health offering still more attractive. For example, we made the decision to have our centers Joint Commission International (JCI) accredited. Once we have this medical accreditation, we will be among the few medical centers in the Central Asian region to boast such capability.

How will the partnership with Nazarbayev University evolve?

This for us is one of the most important issues. When National Medical Holding (NMH) was established, it was not a part of Nazarbayev University. Yet, a recent decision has led to this status. One of the main focuses for us is to develop a sophisticated scientific capability. We are still working toward this goal. To make it absolutely clear, post-Soviet medical and healthcare science is not comparable to what is available in the US and certain Western European countries. We are working to bring these technologies here, develop a research capability, and train our researchers so as to transform our centers into centers of research, away from solely being medical centers.

How would you rate NMH's international partnerships?

We have six different centers. Our cardiac surgery center, for example, might be considered one of the best based on the volume of work it receives. We are one of a small number of countries with capabilities in devices specialized for cases of chronic cardiac emergencies. We were selected as one of just five test countries in the world for a new cardiac assistance device to help the heart work better, which is currently being developed in the US. To be part of this speaks volumes about our capabilities. We plan to start work on artificial hearts in 2014, or at the start of next year, to help surgeries and complete the artificial heart project. In terms of surgical capabilities, we have sophisticated techniques to remove brain tumors, and have developed new techniques for the surgical treatment of epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, and other conditions. For example, at this center—in a first for Kazakhstan—we carried out a liver transplant from an adult to a six-year-old child. The donor organ was transplanted into a child who otherwise had just weeks to live. We perform this kind of surgery on a regular basis. We have recently opened a pediatric oncology department and a hematology department. We work with brain tumors and carcinomas and are planning to become a regional entity in Kazakhstan for the treatment of childhood cancer.

How do you plan to work in preventative medicine?

Many say that it is easier to prevent a disease than to treat one. In many cases, this is a rather empty claim as while we know what should be done, physicians understand that in many cases, preventative medicine has not been developed. Everyone is talking about preventative medicine in the US and Europe, but ultimately it largely depends on people themselves—what we eat, drink, and whether we exercise or not. No government can oblige people to take exercise, for example. However, at the same time, educational activities in the field of medicine should be in place.