TBY talks to HE Dr. Ahmed Mohammed Al-Saidi, Minister of Health, on doubling down on costs, preventing epidemics, and bringing the private sector up to scratch.

 HE Dr. Ahmed Mohammed Al-Saidi
HE Dr. Ahmed Mohammed Al-Saidi has a BSc from Park College, Kansas City, an MB ChB from the University of Glasgow, and studied general management at Harvard Business School. His career has included senior medical, administrative, and academic positions in both Oman and the UK, including as Under Secretary for Health Affairs and Senior Consultant Rheumatologist at the Ministry of Health, Deputy Director General (Medical), Head of Medical Division, and Senior Consultant Physician/Rheumatologist at The Royal Hospital in Oman, as well as Consultant Rheumatologist and Senior Lecturer at the Bristol Royal Infirmary in the UK.

How would you assess the development of the domestic pharmaceutical industry over the last year, and what more needs to be done?

In the last year in the domestic pharmaceutical industry, there was a royal decree that regulated pharmaceutical work in Oman. This has given pharmacies double the space to sell non-prescription products, so they can generate more income. As a result, it has reduced the prices of a majority of drugs, some by more than 50%. There was a decision among GCC countries to unify the price of drugs in all member states. Oman had some of the highest prices for drugs in the region, and now prices are much cheaper. Our aim is to have more of this industry based in Oman.

What are some of the new objectives pursued by the Ministry of Health as part of the government's ninth Five-Year Plan for the country?

This is my sixth year as the Minster of Health and my goal is to improve the quality of healthcare in Oman. When I was appointed in 2010, the Ministry of Health had just over 4,000 doctors. Today, we have more than 8,000. The number of nurses and professionals has doubled as well. 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, added a genetics center, and expanded the oncology center. We just signed a contract to build four facilities, and there are about 16 more in the pipeline to be built by the end of 2016. This is part of our plan, but our concentration is still building the capacity in human resources.

Do you see the health sector as a good location for future PPPs in Oman?

Absolutely. I would start with the medical city. It will be open for private investors to build, own, and operate there. At the moment, the private sector does not have the capacity to provide the services I want to buy. For example, we are still buying renal dialysis. We have units all across the country, but the demand is increasing. We want to encourage the private sector, but it is slow to respond. We started buying services from the private sector to encourage it to expand. Secondly, we provide it with statistical information about the needs of the country and locations for healthcare expansion. Everyone wants to be in Muscat, but there are certain parts of Oman that are heavily populated, and the private sector is still lagging behind. In addition, there are other incentives, like plots of land.

How does the Ministry work to safeguard the population against new diseases and epidemics?

We have had outbreaks of Hepatitis A and also Crimean-Congo fever. We abide by international laws and report every case that must be reported to international agencies like the WHO. Protecting the public from outbreaks of disease is the responsibility of the country and the Ministry of Health plays a leading role, but it cannot be achieved by us alone. Both of these outbreaks were infectious diseases. One is an animal-to-human disease; there is a necessity to ensure that animals imported to the country are clear of diseases. Before the outbreak of Hepatitis A, we did not vaccinate our children for this because it was not considered a necessity, but we are considering it now. The vaccination rate in Oman otherwise is almost 100%. There is still a threat in Oman from some international viruses, such as Zika. We have taken steps to prepare just in case of outbreaks.