A PUBLIC AFFAIR

Oman 2014 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | REVIEW: HEALTH

Oman's government is spearheading projects to help the country become an affordable destination for healthcare treatment.

With large healthcare-oriented projects sliding into focus, Oman's healthcare sector is strengthening its potential as a regional health center supported by significant government investment and careful planning. In recent years, the introduction of private sector opportunities has led the healthcare industry on a path toward higher quality and profitability.

Priding itself on rapid growth and the eradication of various infectious diseases, the Ministry of Health has led Oman to achieve important milestones since the organization's inception in 1970. The country now enjoys a modern national system that offers all of its citizens universally accessible health services free of charge. To implement the universal system, the Ministry devised eight five-year plans, the first of which was launched in 1976. Since then, heavy government regulation and a strict focus on quality have contributed to success in both the public and private spheres.

Despite a relatively high fertility rate, life expectancy in Oman has reached a high of 76 years. However, only 6% of the population is over the age of 65, with a hefty 34% of people under the age of 15. Coupled with the growing number of middle-aged expatriate residents, this young population has led the government and private sector actors to predict a massive increase in demand for health services in the medium to long term.

According to a 2013 report released by Alpen Capital, Oman's healthcare market could be worth $2 billion by 2015, thanks to rapid population growth, a rising number of patients seeking treatment for lifestyle-related illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes, and the increased possibility of mandatory health insurance. The market already registered a strong compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 21% between 2004 and 2009, reaching a value of $1.2 billion by 2010. If growth continues apace, Oman can expect a CAGR of 9.3% between 2010 and 2015.

Oman spends in excess of 2.4% of GDP on healthcare development each year, a high figure compared to the average of 0.5% for developed countries and 1.6% for less developed countries. In 2012, spending reached a high of $1.2 billion, or 3% of the overall government budget. Spending grew to 4% of the budget in 2013 to become $1.3 billion. Currently, public spending in the sector accounts for about 82.5% of total health expenditures.

The government is the largest operator in the sector, running 83% of hospitals and 92.5% of the available beds in the country. As the employer for the overwhelming majority of doctors and nurses, healthcare personnel are subjected to close monitoring to ensure that best practices are being carried out. The Ministry of Health itself is responsible for 75% of Oman's hospitals and 78% of the total number of beds, corresponding with 70% and 77% of doctors and nurses, respectively.

The healthcare sector formally opened up to private sector participation in 1999. Since then, 11 private hospitals and 973 clinics have been opened in the country, providing 488 beds in 2012. According to the Ministry of Health, the number of private pharmacies grew to 476 in 2012. There were an estimated 5,722 public and private hospital beds in 2012, a number that experts predict could reach 6,300 by 2015, if planned projects are completed on time.

PROJECTS & PLANS

Ready to reverse the trend of Omanis traveling overseas for medical treatment, project developers in both the public and private sectors are designing new medical facilities that are intended to cater to domestic demand. In 2012, India and Thailand were the top choice for local citizens seeking treatment abroad, with Thailand attracting 60,000 Omanis alone. With this figure reportedly expected to increase by 25% over 2013-2014, projects that can completed rapidly have become vital for the growth of the local healthcare sector.

The most well-known project is the International Medical City (IMC) to be built in Salalah. With construction slated for an early 2014 start date, IMC will be an integrated healthcare project requiring investment of $1 billion. As the centerpiece of international healthcare tourism in Oman, IMC is expected to significantly reduce the number of Omanis seeking treatment abroad when its first phase goes onstream in 2016. “We see it as an integrated tourism project," Dr. Mohammed S. Al Sofayan, CEO of IMC, explained, adding, “We were determined to find the best location for the project, as the rehabilitation component is one of its most significant services." The proximity of IMC to airports could become one of its best selling points for patients in need of emergency care and transplants. When Phase III of the project is complete, IMC will feature 530 beds and provide employment for 550 people. In addition, the Medical City project—a $1.5 billion initiative—is set for completion in Muscat. Named after the country's ruler, HM Sultan Qaboos, the city will occupy a space of 5 million sqm.

However, for future projects and plans to be successful, the collaboration among all government sectors is crucial. With due consideration for policies on insurance, tax, urban planning, and nutrition, Oman is set to become a coordinated hub for healthcare at home and in the GCC region.