Oman: Healthy improvements

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The Sultanate’s health sector continues to develop, with more hospitals being recognised for providing high quality of care and plans for a new health endowment programme under discussion.

In recent months, two Omani hospitals have been awarded accreditation from Joint Commission International (JCI), the international arm of the Joint Commission, a US-based, non-profit organisation that accredits and certifies health care institutions and programmes.

JCI performs the same service on a global level and has accredited more than 450 public and private health care organisations worldwide since 1999. Muscat Private Hospital was the first institution in the country to meet JCI’s standards and received accreditation in early February.

A few months later, in early April, Starcare Hospital, the Muscat branch of the UK-based Starcare Systems medical group, also received accreditation from the association. Starcare’s achievement was particularly remarkable given that it is a relative newcomer to the Omani medical scene, having commenced operations in the first half of 2011.

For decades, the Sultanate has put improvements to the health sector at the fore of its national policies, recognising that the good health of the population is key to success in other areas. As a result, the sector has been able to rise to the challenge of reducing instances of a number of communicable diseases and has virtually eradicated diseases such as diphtheria and measles, which both affected segments of the population in the 1970s.

Additionally, around 99% of the population has been covered by immunisation programmes, which have greatly reduced the chance of contracting serious illnesses in childhood, and life expectancy is now 72.7 years, up from 49 in 1970.

Now the Sultanate is in the process of laying out its strategy for the future of the industry, with plans to upgrade and integrate health care training and facilities the focus of a three-day conference in late April. At the event, which focused on Oman’s “Health Vision 2050”, a number of plans for further development of the sector were discussed.

One such initiative is the “Health Endowment” programme, which will be launched as a collaborative effort between the Awqaf and Religious Affairs Ministry (ARAM) and the Ministry of Health. The programme will aim to involve individual and institutional investors in the development of health care in the Sultanate.

Speaking at the conference, Margaret Chan, the director-general of the World Health Organisation, told local media, “Even though the government has done much to improve health care facilities in Oman, the community also needs to do its part. Endowment is among the best approaches in such circumstances. But endowment should not be used as a substitute to government financing for health.”

Indeed, the government has expressed plans to better integrate the health care sector with other areas of the economy. At a press conference in early May, representatives from the Ministry of Health and ARAM further elaborated on the endowment initiative, emphasising the need for cooperation between public and private entities on health-related matters.

According to Al Hinai Nasser Al Qasimi, the director-general of endowments and treasury at ARAM, the ministries believe the participation of the general population will greatly enhance the reach of health initiatives. A few health endowments – including one for leprosy patients and one for blind people – are already in existence, but the ministries hope to create further projects to address the needs of patients with contagious diseases, as well as those with conditions that may require treatment outside of the Sultanate.

Al Qasimi said the health endowment project would promote the further development of existing endowments and would also encourage individuals and organisations to support the construction of additional health care institutions and research centres.

The recent JCI accreditations, along with the continued planning for public-private cooperation, show that the Sultanate is committed to providing high standards of health care – and high quality of life – to its citizens. As the country pushes forward with its development plans, there is no question as to the importance attached to the long-term health of the nation.

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