Interview: Hanan Mohamed Al Kuwari

What allowed Qatar’s health care system to cope with the challenges presented by Covid-19?

HANAN MOHAMED AL KUWARI: Working together across the health care system – in partnership with ministries, public and private organisations, and the community – enabled Qatar have one of the lowest Covid-19 mortality rates in the world and a high vaccination rate.

However, our success in confronting the pandemic did not happen by chance. The work conducted over recent years to increase capacity and improve the quality of care put the sector in a strong position to tackle the crisis. Over the past decade we have opened 10 advanced hospitals, eight modern primary health centres and multiple new specialist care facilities across the public health care system.

In addition to expanding capacity, we have improved the quality of care significantly. Our continual pursuit of improvement has been endorsed by multiple international accreditations for quality and safety across a broad range of service areas. Our ambulances, surgical facilities, diagnostics and cancer treatment services, among others, are equipped with advanced technology on a par with some of the best health care providers around the globe.

The advanced digital systems in place allow the health care system to be more connected than ever before, with clinical teams able to access patient records in facilities across the public health care system. These achievements have enabled the sector to overcome the challenges of Covid-19, which is the biggest public health crisis of our era.

How can technology and digital innovation be leveraged to improve service provision?

AL KUWARI: Covid-19 radically changed the way services are delivered to patients. This started with the launch of the 16000 hotline for pandemic-related inquiries and information, and was expanded to enable people to access clinical and support services. Throughout the pandemic, we have delivered multiple virtual services, including an urgent care helpline, telemedicine outpatient consultations and a mental health helpline. We also established a pharmacy delivery service to ensure patients could safely access their regular prescriptions.

Many of these services will remain in place, enabling patients to access the care they need in a safe and timely manner, especially where face-to-face appointments are not required. For example, the mental health helpline continues to support patients through as many as 300 calls per week. The access to professional mental health care it provides has helped thousands of people access immediate support and advice from trained experts.

Which challenges and opportunities does the 2022 FIFA World Cup present for health care?

AL KUWARI: As health care workers, we have an important role to play in the successful hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which will bring added pressures that we are prepared for. More than 1.5m football fans are expected to travel to Qatar, with around 500,000 in the country at its peak. Health care teams from across the system will work collaboratively to provide medical and other support services to football teams and travelling fans.

Our health care sector has experience delivering services for major events and gatherings. In recent years health professionals have been involved in large-scale tournaments hosted in Doha, including the 2019 FIFA Club World Cup, the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships and the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup.

During the 2022 FIFA World Cup we plan to provide medical services across a range of venues, including stadia, fan zones and fan villages, training pitches and hotels. We are also working to increase capacity for urgent and emergency care services to cope with the influx of visitors throughout the tournament.