As the Ministry of Health (MOH) establishes its long-term development strategy for the sector, the question of alternative funding sources has risen to the fore – and a recent health care summit in Muscat provided a useful forum for discussion on the subject.
The “International Conference on Health Vision 2050” was staged by the MOH with two clear objectives in mind: to review the health system in the sultanate of Oman and to establish a policy to meet the health needs and expectations of the community. As the country’s most significant health care policy event to take place in recent years, the ministry opted to broaden its scope as much as possible, both in terms of themes and participants.
Among many others, major areas of discussion included a comparative analysis of global health care systems, from Malaysia to Norway, including their achievements, failures and remaining challenges; health care and quality assurance within Oman, from primary to tertiary and both public and private; and health challenges particular to Oman, including the obvious epidemiologic but also the socio-economic and demographic concerns of many participants.
International participation in the conference was equally broad, with speakers and representatives in attendance from NGOs like WHO and UNICEF, as well as higher-education institutions such as Cardiff University and Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, to name a few. Individual participants, chosen for their expertise in their respective fields, travelled from as far afield as Canada, Scotland and Sweden.
The information gathered, shared and evaluated during the conference will prove invaluable as the MOH continues its efforts to establish a long-range health care vision for the nation, which will supersede the long-term policy it established in 1992. However, the conference also provided the platform for the ministry to reveal a shorter-term goal, aimed at further diversifying the sources of funding available to the health care sector.
One of the roundtable discussions taking part on the sidelines of the event addressed the potential of endowments as a means of future health care infrastructure funding, and resulted in the announcement of a joint initiative by the MOH and the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs that will establish such a scheme. Under the new “Health Endowment” concept, individuals and organisations will be provided with a channel through which they can assist with the provision of health care in Oman. Speaking to the local press during the conference, Dr. Kahlan bin Nabhan al Kharousi, the Assistant Grand Mufti of Oman, provided an outline of how the scheme will work: “As we have many plots of land for endowment purposes, we will invite individuals and organisations to come forward and utilise them for health purposes by building health centres or laboratories. They will also be encouraged to donate equipment that can be used in hospitals and laboratories.”
These endowments might also be used to provide patients with medicine and fund travel for treatment overseas when it is not available in Oman. Perhaps the most innovative aspect of the proposal is the suggestion that health care professionals be invited to give endowments in the form of their time, spending a small number of hours at health centres built specially for endowment purposes.
Encouraging the participation of society in health care provision through an endowment scheme, while not replacing government funding, holds out the promise of a new source of capital for the health care sector. The model is already established in the religious sphere under the auspices of the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs, where it has been used to build and restore mosques, as well as provide financing for leprosy patients, provide white canes for the blind and establish burial shrouds. The new proposals will add significantly to these capabilities and, if implemented as planned, will help establish citizens as true partners in the nation’s health care system.
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