Economic Update

A two-pronged drive to tackle the rise of lifestyle diseases in Oman and broaden the range of medical facilities available locally has put the country’s health care services on course for rapid growth.

Oman has upped state spending on health care significantly in recent years, although it has also encouraged the private sector to take on a greater role, particularly in developing specialised facilities and preventive treatments.

The efforts have been strengthened by a shift in attitude among Omanis, who are now opting, in growing numbers, to use private medical services that were once almost exclusively the domain of expatriates.

Oman more than doubled its planned spending for health care in the 2014 budget from $1.3bn in 2013 to $3.38bn, in part to sharpen its focus on combating non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension (better known as high blood pressure) and obesity.

Oman will also benefit from two new, dedicated health hubs, which are set to significantly increase hospital bed numbers and expand the range of treatments available. One of the centres, which is expected to open in Muscat around 2020, will make available five new hospitals, alongside a range of additional facilities. A second initiative – the $1bn International Medical City – is being developed in Salalah by the Apex Medical Group.  

A question of choice

Growing numbers of Omanis are gravitating towards private medical services, according to a report issued by the Ministry of Health in mid-April.

The report found that Omanis represented almost half (46.8%) of the 45,654 patients treated at the Sultanate’s 11 private hospitals and medical facilities in 2012, even though they were eligible for care at government-funded centres.

Having the opportunity to choose a medical practitioner, avoiding waiting times and being able to benefit from high-quality services, were all cited as reasons for the rise in take-up of private health care.

“The number of Omanis being treated abroad is decreasing because of the increasing availability of high-end, specialised care available locally through private health care providers,” John Clarke, the director of Muscat Private Hospital, told OBG. “This, coupled with the need for follow-up care and patients’ desire for a more personalised experience, has increased the number of Omani patients at this hospital around 13% from 2013 to this year.”  

Keeping it local

The range of treatments available in both private and state-run centres is also rising, enabling more Omanis needing specialised medical care to undergo treatment in their home country. Ramesh Prakash, general manager of Ibn Sina Pharmacy, a local pharmaceutical distributor and retailer, is confident there will be increased opportunities for private health care service providers in the near future.

“The demand for private health care is rising due to the changing needs of the population,” he told OBG. “A small percentage of Omanis are seeking treatment abroad because certain specialised treatments are not available here yet. This creates a vacuum in the sector that the private sector is well placed to fill.”  

Looking at lifestyles

Tackling non-communicable diseases through treatment and prevention is seen as an area ripe for private sector investment. Like many countries in the Gulf region, Oman has witnessed a sharp rise in lifestyle diseases, especially diabetes, which affected around 14% of the population in 2013 according to projections from the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) with 7,000 new cases registered every year.

Obesity, which is known to contribute to a number of health issues, is also a growing problem. A recent study by Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) found that at least 30% of Omanis were overweight, with 20% now classified as obese. The report said there was an increasing incidence of excessive weight gain among younger age groups, linked to a lack of exercise and unhealthy eating patterns. The report urged the authorities to take account of what it described as a new epidemic by rethinking its national health plan for the country.

The coming years are likely to see a greater emphasis on preventive health and fitness programmes in Oman, ranging from mainstream medical services to sports and lifestyle activities.

With the nation’s population rising by as much as 4% annually, a joint effort by the state and private sector to heighten awareness of the importance of making sensible lifestyle choices and to offer a broader range of treatment should both benefit the nation, as well as support growth in the sector.

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