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Tue 14 Jun 2011 06:41 PM

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Mideast gov't spends $7.5bn on overseas treatment

Kuwait-based healthcare firm says huge cost is example of challenges facing region's health sector

Mideast gov't spends $7.5bn on overseas treatment
(For illustrative purposes only)

A healthcare development firm said on Tuesday it is working with a government in the Middle East that spends up to $250,000 per patient for the 30,000 plus patients it sends abroad annually for treatment.

Dr Mussaad Al-Razouki, CEO at Kuwait-based Kleos Healthcare Corporation, said the example highlighted one challenge facing the region as it tries to deliver affordable healthcare services to a rapidly growing population.

"Even though the treatment of most of the aforementioned patient cases does not exists in that particular country, it is certainly not sustainable for the foreign and health ministries of most Middle Eastern governments to handle their overseas healthcare on a fee for service basis," said Al-Razouki who did not identify which government he was referring to.

He said the major challenge for the Middle East is how to finance healthcare systems in the future.

"It is not as simple as developing a national insurance scheme," he said. "Insurance is only one, and a far from complete solution to diversifying the current petrodirham, dinar and riyal heavy spending on healthcare."

Al-Razouki, who will address healthcare executives on Wednesday at a conference in Dubai, said: "The healthcare industry in the Middle East is currently underserved from both a demand and supply point of view. We notice that Middle East populations are still growing aggressively at 3-5 percent each year. Furthermore, the populations of the Middle East are unfortunately also predisposed to chronic diseases which are expensive to maintain."

He added that healthcare infrastructure in the majority of Middle East countries was underdeveloped.

"Whereas the US and most OECD countries enjoy bed per population ratios of around four bed per thousand (population), most Middle East countries barely have bed/1000 ratios of above two," Al-Razouki said.

"Using this rate as a proxy for the overall healthcare system, the Middle East can certainly afford to double its current healthcare infrastructure," he added.

Al-Razouki said he believes that in the short-to- medium term, hospitals will need to spend increasing amounts of funds on developing robust health IT systems including electronic health records, electronic prescriptions and mobile health solutions that will keep administrative costs down, reduce the chances of medical errors and encourage preventative methods of medicine respectively.

In the long term, he said he saw the concept of hospitals evolving into more focused specialty care centres that excel within a particular care sector.

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