Kuwait tackling increased demand for health services

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As Kuwait moves forward on health care reforms aimed at expanding service provision for its rapidly growing population, the private sector is set to play a more prominent role in the industry. While free health care is guaranteed to all Kuwaiti citizens, population growth has put considerable strain on state-owned facilities. The government has recently announced a number of new projects slated to be constructed across the country, with public-private partnerships (PPPs) expected to bolster service quality and provision for Kuwait’s 3.25m residents.  

New demand pressures existing facilities

Kuwait is divided into five health regions: Kuwait City, Al Jahra, Jabriya, Reqqa and Farwaniyah. Each offers a general hospital providing full outpatient service and 24-hour emergency services. The state also offers a range of specialist hospitals aimed at preventing and treating increasingly prevalent lifestyle diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, and specialty care in neurosurgery, paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology, burns, oncology, radiology, infectious diseases, ophthalmology, physiotherapy and psychiatry.

Today Kuwait’s health care sector offers 72 medical centres, 29 government hospitals, 21 private hospitals, total capacity of 8000 beds and medical teams that accompany pilgrims during the hajj. In April 2014 the World Health Organisation announced that Kuwait “achieved 100% progress” in more than eight vital health services, bringing it on par with advanced Western nations.

However, rapid population growth had strained existing resources. Kuwait’s population grew by nearly 48% between 2004 and 2012, reaching 3.25m from just 2.2m in 2004, according to the World Bank. The Public Authority for Civil Information reported that expatriates comprises 2.66m, or about 60%, of the total population in June 2013.

The government provides free health care to nationals, and foreign workers pay about $175 annually for health insurance, in addition to extra charges for services such as X-rays. This ease of access has put considerable pressure on the public system, and privatisation of services has been a priority for some time.  

Private sector participation

Meeting long-term demand requires substantial investment in infrastructure, and the government has shown commitment to rolling out new health care facilities and services in partnership with the private sector. Private developers are set to benefit from an estimated $3.2bn in hospital projects expected to be rolled out in the next several years. In April 2014, for example, Drake & Scull Kuwait, a subsidiary of Drake & Scull International, won a $16.34m mechanical, engineering and plumbing contract to upgrade a hospital in Shuwaikh, with work expected to finish in March 2015.

Notable ongoing projects include the Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah Hospital, which has been under construction since December 2009, with the project overseen by Kuwait’s Dar Gulf Consult and US-based Langdon Wilson International. The $1.16bn hospital, slated to open in 2014, will provide 1168 beds. The hospital will include diagnostics, clinical, casualty and dental services, as well as VIP suites.

Meanwhile, Jahra Hospital will see the construction of a new 1000-bed health care facility at a cost of about $1bn, comprising 25 operating rooms, 50 intensive care beds and several other facilities, with completion anticipated by the end of 2015. In March 2014 the hospital inaugurated new laboratories worth an estimated KD350,000 ($1.23m) as part of its ongoing expansion, although construction of major project elements has not yet commenced, following a government decision to extend the deadline for pre-qualified bidders in July 2013.

Indeed, project delays have hampered health care expansion in Kuwait. The state’s Partnerships Technical Bureau is currently hoping to establish a PPP for a 500-bed hospital at Al Andalus. The Al Andalus PPP will include the design, construction, finance, maintenance and operations of the facility, including provision of management services, laboratory and medical equipment services, building maintenance, lifecycle repair and replacement services over a 25-year concession.

In April 2013 PPP Bulletin International said the state was close to announcing pre-qualified bidders for the project, with the companies including Bouygues Batiment International, Carillion, Consolidated Contractors Group and Fouad Al-Ghanim & Sons. However, there have been no further announcements since then.

Nonetheless, recent developments have been promising. Al Sadiq Medical Centre, which includes a dialysis centre, is slated to open before July 2014, and in April 2014 Adel Asfour, director of the Al Sabah Health Zone, announced that the state would launch five projects in the Al Sabah Zone. Asfour also launched the Sabah Kidney and Urinary Tract Centre, one of several specialised medical centres operating there.

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