Ahead of the curve


Budget allocation for healthcare sector has been raised by the government this year, despite a difficult year in view of a dip in anticipated revenue. Budget allocation for this year was RO1.6 billion or 11 per cent of total government expenditure, up from RO1.3 billion allocated in 2014. This year’s budgetary allocation is for building 11 hospitals and primary health centres across the country, which is in line with a long-term strategy prepared by the Ministry of Health few years ago. The Sultanate’s healthcare expenditure is around 2.4 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP), which is a healthy sign. The sizable investment in healthcare sector over the years has resulted in commendable results and the country can be proud of its achievements on various fronts – be it in healthcare capability or reduction in mortality rate or progress in controlling communicable diseases. All these achievements are made in the last four-and-a-half decades, since the dawn of the Blessed Renaissance in 1970.

Oman’s health sector is one of the most well-planned and well-thought out one in the entire GCC region, thanks to billions of rials pumped by the government over the years, ever since the country started its Blessed Renaissance in the early 1970s. The tremendous improvement in health services has resulted in an overall betterment of the citizen’s health that was reflected in a substantial decline in preventable diseases as well as in infant mortality.

Impressive indices

The Sultanate’s healthcare sector has grown to such an extent that the country has one hospital bed to serve 624 people. Further, Oman has 19 doctors per 10,000 people against a global average of 14 doctors. The progress made in the healthcare field helped the country to be in the league of well-developed nations in terms of several parameters. For instance, the country has achieved tremendous progress in controlling communicable diseases, which, in turn, helped to achieve an increase in life expectancy as well.

Although government was the major player in healthcare sector in Oman for several decades, now the private sector is emerging as a major force in developing healthcare facilities. Presently, the Sultanate has more than 11 hospitals and 973 clinics in the private sector, which indicates a phenomenal growth compared to the situation almost two decades ago.

Two major medical cities – one in Salalah and the other one in North Batinah – will help the country to build its ambitious tertiary facilities. A significant development is the ongoing plans of a private group to develop an international health city in Salalah. The Saudi-based Apex Medical Group and its affiliate companies, the promoters of International Medical City (IMC) in Salalah, is proceeding with its plans to set up the MENA region’s first transplant and rehabilitation centre of excellence.

Private initiative

The first phase of International Medical City (IMC), the $1 billion-healthcare city, will open for patients towards the end of 2016. The first phase will have a healthcare complex, which will have a 530-bed tertiary care multi-specialty hospital and three centres of excellence. The three medical centres of excellences are for organ transplant and dialysis, diagnostics and rehabilitation. The organ centre will offer transplant facility for liver, kidney and pancreas.

Apart from a healthcare complex, the landmark project, which is coming up in an area of 87,000 square meters of land, will have three major clusters to be developed in the second and third phases, respectively. In the second phase, IMC has plans for a healthcare resort, which will have a four-star medical hotel to cater to the needs of the patients. And in the third phase, it will have an education complex, which will have a medical college, a nursing college and research and development centres.

Another major healthcare city, which is a government initiative, in the northern region is also progressing. The North Batinah medical city will have a general hospital, a pediatric hospital, a specialised tertiary hospital and several other state-of-the-art healthcare facilities.

Mega hospitals with huge investments are required for the country to meet the requirement of a growing population. Presently, 38 per cent of Oman’s population is under 15 years, which will undergo a drastic demographic change in the next forty years. A UAE-based institution estimated the growth in number of hospital beds in Oman at 4.1 per cent per annum to 9.359 by 2018, from an estimated 7,645 in 2013. Besides, the Sultanate’s healthcare services market is expected to expand at an annual rate of 11.8 per cent to reach $3.8 billion in 2018, from $2.1 billion in 2013. wThe expansion in health services increased the ministry’s coverage to almost 95 per cent of populated area in the country. The remaining five per cent of the population live in remote mountainous regions that are not easily accessible and posses a great challenge to the delivery of healthcare and other social services.

Although the private sector is taking initiatives to set up new clinics and hospitals, the government is the biggest player in healthcare sector. For instance, as many as 75 per cent of hospitals and 78 per cent of hospital beds belong to the Ministry of Health, which is also the major employer in medical field. In 2014, the Ministry of Health has initiated building five hospitals – one each in Al Suwaiq, Khasab, North Batinah, Al Dhakhiliya and Al Falah – which will add 900 beds in total.

The Ministry of Health is preparing both short-term and long–term plans for developing the healthcare sector. As part of the short-term plan, Oman government aims to have 346 government healthcare facilities, including 70 hospitals. However, the long-term master plan called Health Vision 2050 aims at improving radically the healthcare facilities in the country. The first phase of the Health Vision 2050 study was to evaluate the current situation, while the second phase is for identifying the challenges for taking action.

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