Interview: Dr Hanan Al Kuwari
What do you identify as the most pressing issues within the national health strategy?
DR HANAN AL KUWARI: The national health strategy encompasses many different objectives. The most pressing of these are building our health care infrastructure, focusing on treating a number of diseases and developing our human capacity. These aspects are currently being developed simultaneously through a range of projects. For instance, we have recently launched a national cancer strategy that is very ambitious with its clinical components. We are also aiming to implement strategies for other diseases, such as cardiovascular health. In addition, as the occurrence of lifestyle diseases in Qatar is high, we are planning to introduce health insurance that will lower per capita health care costs. All these strategies are designed with the ultimate objective of improving the health of the population.
How will developments in the academic system help to reduce the human resource mismatch in the health sector, and what is the expected timescale?
AL KUWARI: We have put together a five-year strategy for the academic health system, and even though we are now only in year one of the programme, we can already see developments having an impact on both staff and patients. Joint appointments between our staff and academic institutions such as Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar and Qatar University have allowed our staff to teach and given faculty members clinical practice opportunities. There are a number of joint research programmes in which we look at ways to better manage patient care and apply the best practice methods. We have elected to apply a confederate health system model, in which all partners have equal weight and come together voluntarily.
To what extent are the aspirations for Qatar to become a centre for medical research as realistic?
AL KUWARI: I believe these aspirations are realistic. We are extremely lucky to have an enlightened leadership that understands the importance of research and has made funds available and implemented national strategies to develop and support research – and not just within the medical field. The national research strategy looks at developing an environment that is conducive to innovation in fields such as energy and IT.
Our budget for research in the health care sector is increasing year-on-year, which means our capacity to carry out research is increasing. All departments and clinicians have strategic research objectives on which they are evaluated. We are working towards ensuring that research activities of both hospitals and academic institutions within the health sector are strategically aligned, and there are a number of joint research programmes to ensure collaboration. Qatar is a very small country and all stakeholders must work together to ensure we have an impact on the population.
In what way can the shortages of medical specialists be addressed, and what still needs to be done to incentivise professionals to come from overseas?
AL KUWARI: We have had a lot of success in attracting top calibre clinicians and health professionals. They see the opportunity in Qatar to set up programmes in a very flexible environment that allows them to fulfil ambitions that may be limited elsewhere. They are very much incentivised by the academic system that gives attention to research as well as clinical practice. In addition, the Qatari population is very small so health professionals can have a noticeable impact on the health care of the population.
We are also investing heavily in developing our own capacity and pool of local medical specialists. We are investing in training and funding scholarship programmes to ensure professionals are kept motivated and skilled at every level. There are a number of international collaborations that are creating opportunities for exposure to different models and the adoption of the best practice. In addition, there are various initiatives to attract young people to the field of medicine.
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