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Oman: Health Care Opportunities

With the government's support, private heath care is experiencing strong growth in the sultanate.

Speaking to OBG last week, Dr. Ali Moosa, the minister of health, said that he acknowledged the fact that the public sector in isolation cannot meet the population's health care needs. This has led the ministry of health (MOH) to embark upon strengthening and supporting the private health sector with a number of strategic plans implemented in the recent past, he added.

The bulk of private sector involvement is in the provision of primary health care in the form of private clinics, which increased from 516 in 2000 to 713 in 2005.

Secondary and tertiary health care has been more modest from the private sector. Private hospitals went from three in 2000 to five in 2005. However, more hospitals are emerging with the expansion of services and incorporation of tertiary health care facilities, said Moosa.

The main improvement for the overall sector will be to help reduce the patient load and further improving the quality of health services in a more competitive environment, said Moosa.

Private health care centres in the sultanate are required to participate in all national health programmes. For example, they contribute to programmes such as mandatory medical checks for labourers in hazardous environments.

The MOH is also the regulator of private health institutions. They supervise the licensing of both medical staff and for the institutions. These are distributed under the supervision of the department of private health establishment, a separate department within the directorate general for health affairs.

In a recent move to support the private sector, the MOH has decided to allow senior MOH doctors to practice in private centres, to provide support and offer the benefit of choice to clients for consulting their favoured physicians when desired, said Moosa.

The overall network of health centres is very widely spread in the sultanate. The MOH claims that there is a health care facility within 20km of each and every household. The total outpatient department (OPD) recorded visits for public medical care in 2005 was 10,616,910. This figure represents an average of 4.2 visits per year per person, according to figures from the MOH.

Some observers expect the biggest challenge for private health care providers is that the public services are free of charge for nationals. Nonetheless Omanis have shown interest in private sector treatment. Dr. Mohammed Ali Jafer, Chairman of Muscat Private Hospital (MPH) opened in 2000, told OBG that he had been surprised that almost 60% of the customers were Omanis despite having free healthcare.

The expanding expatriate population plays a role in demand for private health centres. While accepting emergencies, public health facilities do not administer elective treatments for expatriates. The expatriate population has already grown by 10% this year and now totals over 600,000 or roughly 30% of the population. In addition, private health centres participate in the mandatory health screening of the imported work force.

A major boost in private health care would be making mandatory health insurance for expatriates, as has been done in some neighbouring Gulf countries, such as Kuwait. Oman currently has some mandatory accident insurance for the workplace but none for healthcare.

Emerging hubs such as Sohar, which launched a mega port this year and will be receiving a number of industry projects, will also need health care facilities. In August the MOH announced the construction of five new health centres in the North Batinah region at a total cost of OR2.5m ($6.5m). Jafer also told OBG that the board was currently evaluating the feasibility of opening of branches in different locations, including Sohar and Salalah.

© Oxford Business Group 2006

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