WEF live blog: 'Transforming healthcare' panel debate

Experts debate what shifts are needed to deliver an effective response to the region's main healthcare challenges
WEF live blog: 'Transforming healthcare' panel debate
By Staff writer
Fri 22 May 2015 03:19 PM

And that's all folks - thanks go to the panellists and thank you for joining us at the coverage of this event in Amman.

(16:00) Sadly we're out of time now; Salama is now summing up. There is agreement on a twin burden; communicable diseases make the headlines, but the growing burden of non-communicable diseases needs to be addressed. There's also a fear of a two-tier healthcare system - for the rich and for the poor, or for the young and for the old. In addition, healthcare cannot be a family-run business, it has to be a public good - or there will never be the accountability that customers need. And there's the issue of connecting the dots - between primary and secondary healthcare, between public and private sectors, and the role of technology in joining the dots. "We also agreed this is about institutions...about capacity building, about a systemic, holistic approach to health - and it's fundamentally about people," he concludes.

(15:50) Princess Dina says healthcare is not given its weight and should be prioritised by governments much more. "We need our governments to regulate our health systems, so the patients - the customers - get ultimate accountability. You can't just have the private sector ruling the game," she says. "People want to know that health is a fundamental right - we should not have to beg to get quality services."

(15:43) Dr Shamsheer says the issue of accountability is a problem all over the world - although some regulatory systems are stronger than others. "We can't make the doctor fear for his life, and not carry out the procedure," he says. But he agrees that a balance has to be struck between the business aspect of healthcare, particularly in privatised companies, and the interests of the patient.

Mawajdeh says that the algorithms that medical staff use within hospitals when deciding tests is the same in Amman as it would be at the Mayo Clinic - it's part of the process. The panellists are now discussing the provision of insurance, which is significantly lower in the Middle East than other parts of the world. Badreldin says the next 'gold mine' of investing is elderly homecare, particularly the use of technology to treat ageing populations in their own homes.

(15:26) Radder says he supports the need for a holistic view. He says that for that system, you need tertiary hospitals, diagnostic centres and an ability to treat people in rural areas. Radder says that these components need to organised in different ways. "I am convinced IT will play a very different role in connectivity, in all health systems, and with all patients". Mawajdeh cites the example of Costa Rica, which spent a smaller percentage of its GDP on healthcare than the US, but achieved better results - largely because it focused on primary healthcare.

Dr Shamsheer says the backbone of his company has been IT, ever since it launched eight years ago - it's now a billion-dollar company. "IT is going to be absolutely critical in the years to come," he says, citing new technologies that are now being tested in the UAE.

There's a good question - one gentleman says that he is disappointed with local healthcare systems; it's the only business where you can't get your money back when inefficiencies occur, or when unnecessary tests (or 'guesswork') are carried out. That gets a laugh, and has the panellists looking at each other a bit nervously.

(15:16) And now we have questions from the floor. Here's one from a Novartis executive based in Dubai. He says that an IT platform is almost more important than human capital, which will allow healthcare firms to direct resources appropriately. Princess Mired says that the problem in Jordan is a disjointed approach - it's not about IT alone. "We need a comprehensive strategy," she says.

"With the refugees and so on, our system didn't grow as organically as we would like. I would like to cite the Turkish model - they've taken a fantastic approach, introduced universal coverage, but they looked at the whole picture.

"We need to work on implementation; our countries have great ideas, but we need to implement."

(15:14) Dr Shamsheer says that the future lies with public private partnerships - allowing the government to focus on policy, regulation and licensing. He says the main challenge is getting human capital to run healthcare facilities, especially in rural areas. This is made worse in some countries, given the geopolitical situation.

(15:10) Radder says that the life expectancy has changed in 50 years from 40 to 70 - so much has happened. He says the opportunities lie in "connecting the dots" - investing in prevention, a healthier lifestyle and so on. He references a survey where people are asked about their health; between 50-70 percent of them say they are in good shape, when in fact they are obese. So there is a clear lack of understanding about lifestyle.

(15:08) Badreldin, a private equity investor, says that the key issue with the healthcare sector is that it's one of the most inefficient sectors he has seen as an investors. His firm has invested in diagnostics centres in Jordan and Egypt - and the biggest issue is a shortage of qualified people. He says there is a lot of pressure on the government, and that too many investors tend to focus on serving the rich, rather than the mid or low market.

(15:03) Princess Mired says cancer incidence will double in the next 20 years, and that it's an particular problem in Jordan. "We need a reshuffling of our health system to offer equitable care, quality care to everybody - but how to we finance that? If we don't we are going to have huge problems."

Salah Mawajdeh says his response will be similar; people are living longer, and lifestyles are getting worse. For cardiovascular diseases, by 2020-2030, for the rest of the world will start to improve its incidence rate. However, that's not the case for the MENA region, where incidence is projected to get worse. Having said that, he says that cancer care in Jordan has improved.

(15:00) The first question is about trends in the region, and it is posed to Princess Mired. She says that the healthcare battle is the biggest challenge that the Middle East faces in the long term. She references universal health coverage, and non-communicable diseases.

As the head of a cancer foundation, she says it is still incredibly tough to get funds for treatment. But for Ebola, as rich countries were scared of the disease passing to them, it was easy to raise funds to combat that - the same isn't the case for non-communicable disease.

(14:55) Salama also points to the population displacements caused by war throughout the region, which has put huge pressure on some governments' healthcare budgets, and destroyed the healthcare systems of others.

Salama says that from a global perspective, governments here are spending less on healthcare than their peers elsewhere. He says there is a danger of a two-tier system opening up - one tier for the very rich, and another, ineffective tier, for the poor.

(14:54) And we're off - the session is being hosted by Peter Salama, regional director, Middle East and North Africa for UNICEF, who is based here in Jordan.

He has spent quite a bit of time in West Africa working as the UN envoy on Ebola. He says that outbreak underscored the vulnerability of health systems across the world. Here in the Middle East, we have seen the emergence of MERS and the growth of non-communicable diseases.

(14:53) While we wait to get started, take a look at a recent blog post written by Arjen Radder, which was posted yesterday on the WEF website. Entitled ‘Key Steps to Transforming Healthcare in the Middle East’, the piece points out that while governments have recognised the importance of the industry in their national plans, there is still a need for steps such as nationwide cancer screening programmes and a greater focus on prevention and wellbeing.

(14:48) Speaking on the panel are Ahmed Badreldin, a partner from the UAE’s Abraaj Group, and Dr Shamsheer Vayalil, the managing director of VPS Healthcare, also from the UAE. We also have HRH Princess Dina Mired, the director general of the King Hussein Cancer Foundation here in Jordan. Last, but not least, we’ll also be hearing from Arjen Radder, the CEO of Philips Middle East and Turkey, part of Royal Philips, and Salah Mawajdeh, who works for Hikma Pharmaceuticals, and a previous Minister of Health for Jordan.

(14:40) Right now, however, we’re focusing on healthcare. Over the next hour, some of the top figures in this critical industry will be discussing the shifts needed to deliver an effective response to the region’s main healthcare challenges. Those topics will include the need to adapt infrastructure to changing needs, and how the region can harness technology to redesign service delivery. Also on the agenda is the growing influence of non-communicable diseases – an issue which is resulting in an increasingly heavy burden on government budgets.

(May 22, 14:30 Jordan time) Welcome to Arabian Business’ coverage of one of the key debates at this year’s World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa, which is being held at the King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Centre by the Dead Sea in Jordan. It’s the first day of the main programme, and we have already had speeches from some of the region’s most important leaders, including Jordan’s King Abdullah and Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour, as well as Egypt’s Abdelfattah Alsisi.

Click here for all the stories from our coverage of the World Economic Forum, MENA, in Jordan

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