POSITIVE PROGNOSIS

Oman 2018 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Dr. Ahmed Mohammed Al-Saidi, Minister of Health, on expanding private healthcare, Omanization, and collaboration.

HE Dr. Ahmed Mohammed Al-Saidi
BIOGRAPHY
HE Dr. Ahmed Mohammed Al-Saidi has a BSc from Park College, Kansas City, an MBChB from the University of Glasgow, and studied general management at Harvard Business School, in addition to a number of other diplomas. His career has included senior medical, administrative, and academic positions in both Oman and the UK, including 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; and consultant rheumatologist and senior lecturer at the Bristol Royal Infirmary in the UK.

In terms of private healthcare, what trends do you see in the development of health providers in Oman?

Over the last five years, we have worked extremely hard with the private sector. The private sector is growing in the right direction; however, we still need to see more being done because, unfortunately, many of the procedures that the government does are not done at the private level and many Omanis still go abroad for treatment because of this. If there was a strong private health sector in Oman, most of those people would seek a second opinion locally instead of flying abroad. There is a great opportunity and potential for the private sector to grow further. The Ministry of Health is in fact outsourcing all its logistics services. I know of partnerships between Omani companies and international hospitals to set up centers in Oman. We welcome all, though all within a system of quality that aims for international accreditation.

How does the Ministry of Health demonstrate leadership regarding Omanization?

One of our aims is to have Omanization without compromising on quality. In healthcare, we seek quality, not nationality. I prefer to see Omanis in all posts, but only when we prepare them and get them ready to take over from expatriates. We have an Omanization rate of about 34% for doctors in the Ministry of Health. We are doing much better in other healthcare providers because their training time is shorter; for example, nurses and physiotherapists train for three to four years, and the overall Omanization rate within the healthcare sector is above 65%. In certain hospitals, over 90% of nurses are Omani. We train most of them locally and then send them abroad for further courses. Further education of doctors and professionals is one of my priorities, even with the financial constraints; we have not slowed down funding, scholarships, and further training for our healthcare providers.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) have been on the rise in the past years throughout the Sultanate; how has the ministry faced this issue?

Unfortunately, NCDs are spreading worldwide and this is the case in this region mainly due to lifestyle. Diabetes, which leads to cardiovascular disease, cancer, and so on, is the leading cause of death in Oman, as well as in neighboring countries. GCC countries are the world capitals for diabetes. Oman was selected as one of 12 countries worldwide to focus on achieving the development sustainable goals in regards to NCDs. We had around 12-14 UN experts come to Oman to plan how to tackle NCDs. For this, we created a national committee to follow up on our efforts and explore best practises to reduce NCDs. The Ministry of Health by itself cannot regulate people's diets, create exercise plans for the public, stop people from smoking, or control prices; this is why we need the collaboration of every sector and each person to have a healthier lifestyle. We need help from the media, and it is in fact helping to spread the message in a better way. We have a Ministry of Health social media account that we use widely to reach out to the younger generation, which is around 50-60% of the population.

What are your goals for the year and how do you plan on achieving them?

Our plans and ambitions are huge; however, we are also realistic about how much we can implement. In the five-year plan that ended in 2016 we had many projects that were not completed. Some of them are important, and I have made them as priorities for this year. One of our ambitions is to begin building at least three of our 10 planned hospitals. Secondly, a survey we recently started on NCDs will help to educate the public in regards to development sustainable habits. We want to build more and improve collaboration with international organizations as well as governmental and nongovernmental bodies to train our doctors and increase the number of doctors available.