SHOWING THE WAY

Oman 2016 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Dr. Qasem Ahmed Al-Salmi, Director General of the Royal Hospital, on areas of expertise, nurturing new health professionals, and the pharmaceuticals sector.

 Dr. Qasem Ahmed Al-Salmi
BIOGRAPHY
Dr. Qasem Ahmed Al-Salmi is a Senior Consultant Pediatric Pulmonologist & Director General of the Royal Hospital. He is an American Board certified pediatric pulmonologist, who earned his medical doctoral degree from the College of Medicine, Sultan Qaboos University in 1994. He completed his residency and fellowship training and earned a Master’s degree in Public Health from Houston, Texas.

What are the major areas of expertise for the Hospital?

The Royal Hospital is a tertiary-level, acute-care referral hospital, which focuses on the specialties and sub-specialties of pediatrics, medical, surgical, obstetrics and gynecology, oncology, diabetic, genetic, and cardiac services in Oman. Because of the lack of a secondary-care hospital in Muscat, the Royal Hospital caters to both specialist and super-specialty care. Being the apex referral center in Oman for many diseases, it has the responsibility to provide speedy consultation and interventional services to patients referred from regional hospitals, other capital area hospitals, and health centers in the Muscat governorate.

A critical part of healthcare development in Oman is nurturing young Omanis to become the next generation of doctors. How would you assess the quality and number of doctors coming through at the moment?

Omani doctors are well trained and are of a standard comparable to similarly qualified doctors in the Western world. After their basic medical degree, the best of the graduates are selected by the Oman Medical Specialty Board for the post-graduate residency program here. Besides fulfilling their academic requirements, clinical rotations and passing the qualifying examination, most of the residents pass MRC /MRCS, Arab Board, or other international examinations. They are then sponsored abroad by the government for a two-year fellowship so that it can sub-specialize in a specific field and also be exposed to state-of-art technology and practices in the UK, Canada, the US, Australia, and Germany. Most of these doctorate-level doctors have returned to set up very specialized services such as hematology, oncology, radiotherapy, interventional radiology, interventional cardiology, cardiac electrophysiology, surgical oncology, gynecological oncology, fetal medicine, stem cell transplant, and so on

Royal Hospital is the signature hospital in the country. How would you assess the current standards of medical care throughout the rest of the country?

Under the leadership of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, Oman is fortunate to have developed an excellent healthcare infrastructure. The WHO has repeatedly praised Oman's Ministry of Health for its wide network of primary, secondary, and tertiary level healthcare institutions, which work very cohesively and effectively. Communicable diseases are largely controlled, and the Ministry has active programs for non-communicable diseases (diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure, cancer, genetic diseases). The infant mortality rate is down from 118 per 1,000 live births in 1974 to 9.8 currently, and the life expectancy at birth has risen from around 54 years in the 1970s to 76.6 years presently. Oman has modern hospitals, polyclinics, and health centers that deliver care of a very high standard free of charge. Except for few very specialized procedures, Oman is self-reliant in terms of medical care. And for these exceptional procedures, the Ministry of Health's Treatment Abroad Office screens and refers patients abroad at government cost. Some patients do go abroad on their own, particularly for a second-opinion, but we find that even they invariably return to be followed up at the government hospitals.

According to some sources, Oman imports 93% of its medical supplies. To what extent could increased local production boost medical establishments such as Royal Hospital, as well as the healthcare sector in general?

The firms manufacturing medical supplies locally include: Salalah Medical Supplies, which produces gloves, cotton, gauze, medical tapes; National Pharmaceutical Industries (NPI) and Oman Pharmaceutical Products (OPP), which manufacture around 73 items, mostly in tablet, capsule, topical cream/ointment, and syrup form; and Medical Lab Factory, which produces readymade laboratory media. These firms are doing well and are progressively increasing the capacity and range of their products. There is, however, a great potential for indigenous manufacturers of many simple items like syringes, catheters, cannulas, intravenous and dialysis fluids, incontinence pads, disposable gowns, surgical masks, and dressing kits. The Ministry of Health is very supportive of the industry. The pharmaceuticals produced locally are of good quality, and are well accepted by the prescribers and the patients. Being generic drugs, the cost is also significantly less than imported brands. Thus many more patients can be served with the same budget.