Interview: Dr Kazem Behbehani
How is IT being used to improve health care and, specifically, diabetes treatment?
KEZEM BEHBEHANI: Kuwait is close to rolling out an e-system in which not only hospitals but also local medical and primary care centres can have online access to specialised diagnosticians and diagnostic software. There has also been a recent push to develop a standardised system and centralised database which will provide health care professionals throughout Kuwait with more streamlined access to patient records and up-to-the-minute medical information. Eventually, all primary health care centres in the country will be connected electronically. Additionally, a number of institutions, including Dasman, are now looking to form partnerships with local telecom firms to develop mobile health solutions. These systems will enable the public and health care professionals to receive information about diabetes and other medical conditions on their mobile phones.
What can be done to increase people’s awareness about the risk diabetes?
BEHBEHANI: While public health care in Kuwait is guaranteed in the Constitution and is generally considered to be good quality, there are only 6000 hospital beds, while there is a need for 13,000. Capacity constraints aside, the rise in the incidence of diabetes is largely a matter of culture or, more to the point, consumer culture. Kuwaitis have grown accustomed to convenience. They go out for dinner more often, they drive more and they exercise less. Today, 75% of Kuwaitis are overweight and 30% are obese. Further, type II diabetes, which is predominantly a result of poor dietary habits and a less active lifestyle, is on the rise.
Hence, pre-emptive measures are ultimately the key to keeping diabetes under control. As such, battling unhealthy lifestyles, which are a leading cause of the disease, must begin with prevention through educating the population, particularly the younger generations. There also need to be focused awareness campaigns along with more prominently labelled nutritional information in order to make the dangers of diabetes clearer, as well as to promote healthier dietary habits.
A highly consumer-oriented culture left unchecked can be dangerous, and more needs to be done to battle its more deleterious effects. With a widespread chronic illness such as diabetes, we have to consider not only the direct costs to the government and the individual but also the impact on productivity throughout lifetime. Still, generating a larger understanding of healthier lifestyles will take time and money, and until the past 10 years or so, there was a much greater emphasis on infectious diseases than chronic ones.
The increased emphasis on health care and the financial commitment as a part of the National Development Plan should go a long way in facilitating better treatment for, and a wider public awareness of, diabetes.
What roles do private hospitals play in complementing public health care provision for diabetes?
Are there opportunities for further partnerships?
BEHBEHANI: In terms of stimulating further growth of the health care industry and improving provisions for diabetes specifically, more needs to be done to encourage public-private partnerships. At the same time, the private sector needs to be given the room and ability to develop on its own. Through greater competition and collaboration, we can expect to see continued positive growth and overall improvement of health care. Health insurance legislation is in the works and will ultimately benefit the public with more choice, but the process is taking time. Part of the delay has to do with the free health care, making private insurance seem unnecessary. But improvements, such as an increase in staff and hospital beds, are expected to happen. There is also a greater emphasis on collaboration among health care centres and partnerships with local universities. Additionally, the Emir has further stated his committed to both public and private health care improvements and initiatives and to setting appropriate health care standards moving forward.
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