Interview: Hamed Sherif
What role does the private sector play in the provision of health care in Egypt?
HAMED SHERIF: The private sector is a pillar of health care provision in Egypt, and it cannot be underestimated. Taking into account that the government does not have the capability nor the resources to support the entire health care system and meet citizens’ needs, the private sector can play a major and vital role in this regard. Its involvement in health care is inevitable and can be a solid starting point for the development of scenarios that empower the sector as a whole and meet reasonable standards for the end-beneficiaries. Hence, the room for growth of the private sector is significant. In fact, the situation has already attracted the attention of international investors, especially from the Gulf region, to invest in the health care sector in Egypt. This tendency is already under way and will continue to increase within the next coming years.
In order to encourage further growth of the private sector, the Ministry of Heath should revise the incentives given to health care providers, considering the importance of the sector and its low profitability. Without strong governmental support for private operators, the expected demand for health care services cannot be covered. Hence, there needs to be an effort of evidence-based standardisation in the industry. Furthermore, financial support needs to be encouraged by bringing down interest rates and therefore making loans more available. Finally, we must not forget that Egypt does not have the luxury of providing the needed equipment for its population, which is why the government should partner with the private sector to be able to provide affordable machines and treatments.
How easy is it to find qualified nursing and medical staff in the country?
SHERIF: Finding qualified staff is extremely difficult in Egypt. In regards to measures that could be implemented to address the issue, the most important would be increasing the number of teaching facilities for the sector. There is also a need to enhance teaching materials to reach modern medicine standards.
How do you think the issue of lifestyle-related diseases should be tackled?
SHERIF: Firstly, there needs to be more focus on preventive measures and assessing the outcome of such measures in a repeated and cyclical manner that would give more accurate results and help address the issue better. If you provide citizens with the ability to measure their condition, it would be possible for them to keep track of their health more accurately and on a regular basis, as well as to follow a healthier lifestyle. There must be a national programme based on two pillars. The first one would be raising awareness. The latter would entail providing facilities for cause analysis of such lifestyle-related diseases. In order to implement these changes, however, the government must increase its support, as opposed to the current situation where efforts to minimise the impact and the extent of such diseases are mostly coming from the private sector.
What challenges do private medical providers currently face in terms of sustaining revenues?
SHERIF: The large percentage of the population that fits into the low-income bracket is the most important challenge. Other obstacles include expensive equipment and medications, the fact that the health care sector is a low-profit one, and a shortage of qualified staff.
However, the question should not be focused on the challenges, but on the solutions that must be found. The only way of doing so is by implementing a health plan that focuses on standardisation of the sector and creates the environment for negotiating with multinationals the possibility of bringing in equipment and medicines at lower prices – considering Egypt is a developing nation. Decreasing taxes should also be at the forefront of efforts to increase margins. Such solutions would not only help increase profitability, but would also attract local and foreign investments into the industry.
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