GROWING DEMAND FOR HIGH-END MEDICAL CARE

Qatar 2019 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | FOCUS

In line with a social conscious and progressive vision, Qatar is pushing forward with an all-encompassing healthcare improvement initiative using PPPs.

The last few years have seen Qatar pushing the gas on an impressive healthcare infrastructure drive. Guided by a comprehensive national healthcare strategy, the government has promoted the construction of a myriad of new healthcare centers across Qatar. The private sector has largely stayed away from these investments, with nearly 90% of all investment being supported by the government.

In October, the Private Engineering Office, a government agency, handed over a hospital and a healthcare center in Mesaieed Industrial City to Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC), Qatar's premier not-for-profit health care provider. This was the third hospital in as many years being handed over to HMC, which, in cooperation with the Ministry of Public Health, is in charge of equipping the medical facilities.

Earlier in September, the Prime Minister and Interior Minister were present for the inauguration of a new healthcare center in Al Waab, set to serve up to 35,000 people. The center was funded by the Primary Health Care Corporation (PHCC), another government agency that runs 25 such facilities across the country.

While these are important developments in a sector that still lags behind Qatar's neighbors in terms of both scope and quality, the burden of these endeavors still falls dramatically on the shoulders of the national budget. However, that trend is set to change. A new public-private partnership (PPP) law, designed to further involve the public sector in the healthcare industry and limit public expense in new hospitals and medical centers, was passed in 2017, and its effects are already being felt.
In January 2018, the Ministry of Public Health announced a new public tender for bids by private companies for the construction and operation of three private hospitals, for which 137,904sqm of government-owned land was earmarked. It is estimated that the three healthcare facilities will require an investment of up to QAR1 billion (USD270 million) and add as many as 310 beds, serving up to 60,000 patients annually.

If infrastructure development through both public and private investment is the most visible result from the government's renewed concern regarding the country's healthcare system, it is only a part of the wide-reaching five-year National Health Strategy that was launched in early 2018. The government is establishing a shift in paradigm for healthcare in Qatar, focusing on prevention rather than cure, promoting continued monitoring in lieu of disease-focused care, and expanding a network of specialized and diverse healthcare services that are closer to the communities. A new level of integration is being deployed to link the different care centers and hospitals, optimizing information systems, telemedicine, and digital health solutions.
Within this framework focused on prevention, a great deal of effort will be necessary to promote changes in the habits and behaviors of Qatar's citizens. For example, according to government figures, over 70% of Qataris are overweight. Moreover, cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases, areas where prevention can have dramatic mitigation effects, corresponded to 69% of deaths in the country. Promoting sports and exercise will also be a focus in a country where over 40% of the population has low levels of physical activity.

Like many of its neighbors and rich nations across the world, Qatar's healthcare sector will be under increasing pressure in the coming years as it deals with a larger, older, and sicker population. A study by Alpen Capital indicated that by 2020, Qatar's health budget will need to grow to as much as USD8.8 billion, twice as much as the state budget allocated to the sector in 2016.