Qatar focuses on preventive care in new national health strategy

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Healthy lifestyle promotion will be a key component of Qatar’s new six-year health strategy, as it takes proactive measures to reduce the prevalence of non-communicable diseases and lighten the burden of tertiary care.

The National Health Strategy 2017-22 – to be published by the end of this year following a public consultation process that began in May – aligns with the overarching National Vision 2030, which states that a healthy population is critical to the future success of Qatar.

One in six adults in Qatar suffers from diabetes, costing the health care system some QR1.8bn ($494.3m) per year, according to Hanan Mohamed Al Kuwari, minister of public health.

“Without changes, the number of people with diabetes will potentially double over the next 40 years, impacting more people and their families and putting more pressure on the health system,” she told OBG. “However, this is not inevitable: by creating public health programmes that encourage young people to live healthier lifestyles, we can help more people avoid diabetes.”

Government efforts to tackle so-called lifestyle diseases, Al Kuwari said, will include working with schools to create better awareness of healthy eating and exercising, delivering more programmes to help people quit smoking, supporting young people to have better oral health and working with other government ministries to reduce instances of asthma by improving air quality.

Rise in non-communicable diseases

A report published in 2015 by the then-Supreme Council of Health named five main non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that will affect Qatar: cardiovascular diseases, mental health and behavioral disorders, cancer, respiratory diseases and diabetes. 

It attributed the rise of NCDs largely to changing demographics and shifting lifestyle habits such as poor diet and insufficient exercise.

A separate study published in 2013 by Strategy&, a subsidiary of consultancy PwC, calculated that treating these five NCDs could cost Qatar $2778 per capita by 2022, compared to $758 in Saudi Arabia and $603 in Oman.

More recent figures from PwC showed that Qatar spends more per head than any other country in the region, with NCDs accounting for 22% of total health spending last year, compared to averages of 7-11% for Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Ramping up development

Aside from promoting healthier lifestyles, Qatar’s new health strategy will focus on expanding medical facilities and delivering policies that improve the quality, safety and efficiency of care.

Central to this will be an overhaul of first-tier provision: Primary Health Care Corporation (PHCC), a government-run network, plans to build 20 new health centres and either replace or refurbish existing ones, bringing the total to 33 by the end of 2021, subject to budget approvals.

The goal is to shift towards a new model focused on prevention, according to Mariam Ali Abdulmalik, CEO of PHCC.

“Primary care will promote good health and reduce the need for hospital admissions by helping patients to live well, diagnosing risks and conditions earlier, supporting patients in managing their own care and, when needed, actively managing their conditions in their homes and communities,” she told OBG.

As part of this strategy, PHCC began running “SMART” health checks in January to identify risk factors and diagnose previously undetected medical conditions. Following an evaluation of the pilot programme, a plan will be developed to roll out this service at primary health care centres nationwide.

Private sector involvement

PHCC is also looking at the possibility of using public-private partnerships (PPPs) to open some of the new primary health centres already in the pipeline.

“The PPP model being developed for the education sector could also apply to health care,” Abdulmalik told OBG. A proposed law regulating PPPs in Qatar is expected to be published by the end of this year, according to local media reports.

PHCC initially planned to transfer management and operation of two of its largest primary health centres to a third party in 2014, but the government decided that PPPs should be restricted to new health centres in order to generate greater interest from private investors.  

Nonetheless, PHCC has already transferred two health centres to Qatar Red Crescent, a charitable organisation, and has introduced new services such as cancer screening in collaboration with private sector partners.

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