Interview: Abdulla bin Khalid Al Qahtani

How is the SCH working to combat the incidence of lifestyle-related diseases in Qatar?

ABDULLA BIN KHALID AL QAHTANI: The global proliferation of chronic noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and respiratory illness is an epidemic with common risk factors such as poor nutrition, lack of physical activity and smoking. In conjunction with the government and non-governmental organisations, the SCH developed the National Cancer Strategy 2011-16. Therefore, we are now implementing a comprehensive campaign to raise public awareness about cancer symptoms and direct attention to screening programmes carried out in the country. This campaign is based on the results of a survey conducted at the beginning of 2013 to assess the level of knowledge among the public about cancer. The SCH has also developed the National Health Strategy (NHS) 2011-16, which includes three projects, each aiming at improving the quality of preventive care: nutrition and physical activity, tobacco cessation and a national screening programme. To achieve the goal of the first project, SCH established a national nutrition committee to address issues to do with physical activity in Qatar, and in doing so is fighting the prevalence of obesity and decreasing the burden of NCDs.

To what extent is the focus of the nation’s health care strategy switching to preventive care?

AL QAHTANI: Investment in preventive care is a vital goal as it helps reduce the cost of health care services, and in doing so improves people’s quality of life as well as their productivity. Indeed, the NHS 2011-16 has included prevention, early detection and intervention as major priorities for the national health care system. Furthermore, preventive care aims to promote the health of people in Qatar and encourage them to take care of their health and actively participate in preventive care such as early detection and intervention. Therefore, the SCH has assigned more budgets for preventive health care than had previously been the case.

What issues have delayed the implementation of the National Health Insurance (NHI) Scheme?

AL QAHTANI: While both the SCH and the National Health Insurance Company (NHIC) had completed preparations required for the launch, the Shura Council’s advisory process was required to ensure that the necessary legal framework was in place. In fact, the law was enacted within a few months. We were able to launch the scheme on July 17, 2013 with four major providers on board: Al Ahli Hospital, Al Emadi Hospital, Doha Clinic Hospital and Hamad Medical Corporation Women’s Hospital. It is important to keep in mind that the NHI scheme is highly complex. Three streams worked in parallel to launch the scheme: the first involved setting up a company to manage the scheme, the NHIC, which is now taking operational shape. The second has involved getting providers ready, for instance by introducing coding systems, so that cases could be classified and coded in a way that allowed everyone to use relevant data. It also involved the introduction of activity-based funding systems, and others that are yet to come, such as pharmacy coding and others. Significant progress was also made in ensuring that providers are trained in the new system. Finally, the legislative system needed to be established to govern the scheme.

In what ways is SCH working with insurers to establish a framework for universal health care?

AL QAHTANI: It is important to note that the NHI scheme is owned by the government. Its driving motives are based on the greater good of the nation, and so universal health care coverage is an important way to provide for a healthier population in the country. In this context, access to facilities is a vital consideration.

By improving the quality of health care, we expect that there will consequently be a move towards improving efficiency and overall performance throughout the entire system. In turn, the data that is being gathered through the scheme will enable better planning and resource management on the part of the government.