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Panel formed to draw up new health strategy
Jeddah,12th March 2001

Crown Prince Abdullah, deputy premier and commander of the National Guard, has ordered the formation of a committee to carry out a total review of the health services in the Kingdom. Planning Minister Khaled Al-Gosaibi is heading the panel that can also seek the help of international health planning and management experts to work out the country’s new health strategy.

According to Al-Madinah newspaper, the committee included Dr. Abdul Ilah Saaty, director of patient relations at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center in Jeddah, Dr. Saeed Taher of the King Faisal Specialist Hospital, Dr. Khalaf Al-Motairy of the Defense Ministry’s medical service, Eid Al-Ammary of the National Guard’s health affairs, and Dr. Suleiman Al-Sohaimy of the Internal Security Forces Hospital.

“The formation of a committee to review health services reflects the desire of the Kingdom’s leadership to promote health services in the country,” Dr. Saaty said in an article published in Al-Eqtisadiah newspaper.

Health services have become very costly, especially because of the high technology, he said, adding that most countries suffer due to the growing health care bills. He estimated annual international expenditure on health care at more than $2.2 trillion. Saudi Arabia spends 10 percent of its national budget on health care services. “This sum will not be enough to meet the government’s growing commitments.”

Dr. Saaty said the imbalance between the resources available with the government and the increase in demand would negatively affect the quality of service. This would result in shortage in medicines and other supplies, frequent breakdowns of equipment, a long waiting list for admissions and operations, low-cost and inefficient manpower and a brain drain.

Demand for health services has increased considerably with the increase in population, he said. In Saudi Arabia, population is growing at a rate of 3.7 percent, the highest in the world. He pointed out that average life expectancy in the Kingdom rose from 61 to 71 years within the last 10 years.

In order to cut down the growing health expenditures, Saaty proposed to speed up implementation of the health insurance system on both Saudis and expatriates in cooperation with government hospitals. The National Guard and King Faisal Specialist Hospitals have already started providing health services to insured clients.

“We should also encourage donations, voluntary services, endowments and charitable projects in the health sector to create new sources of finance,” he said. He suggested privatization of certain services at government hospitals and to allow the hospitals to provide health services at a fee after the normal work hours.

He also suggested imposition of fees for issuing licenses to private health institutions and medical personnel to create new revenue sources. “The government hospitals must follow economical methods to cut unnecessary expenditures,” he said.

He suggested transfer of government hospitals to the private sector as a long-term solution. “Privatization must be resorted to for achieving optimum use of human and material resources.”

Dr. Saaty called for a revamp of the Health Ministry’s organizational structure and decentralization of power in order to speed up decisions. He suggested formation of two independent general organizations: one for hospitals and another for primary health care. Hospitals should be given flexibility in management and planning. He also proposed that health colleges and institutes be brought under the Higher Education Ministry.

Saaty stressed the need for appropriate buildings for hospitals and health centers. “At present all health centers and 50 percent of hospitals are working in buildings constructed for housing purposes.” Referring to the 2,000 health centers ordered by the king in 1985, he said the project had not been implemented yet. He proposed to implement the project in phases, starting with 300 to 500 centers at a time, with the private sector support.

Dr. Saaty proposed a unified wage scale for doctors and paramedics to stop the brain drain to private sector. He also called for greater coordination among the Health Ministry, health affairs sections of other departments, and the private sector. “Now there is clear lack of coordination, leading to many problems including waste of energy and resources,” he said, calling for the formation of a national council for health coordination.

Source: Arab News

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14 March 2001 07:23:53 PM

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