Unified health reform is future for the Gulf

10 August 2010

An integrated health system would address staffing concerns as well investment needed for new facilities

The Gulf states have taken great strides to improve the quality of life for their citizens over the past 30 years.

GCC nationals can now expect to live much longer than their ancestors. Average life expectancy across the region has increased to 75 years from 60 in the late 1970s. Over the same period, infant mortality rates have been cut from an average of 70 deaths for every 1,000 births to nine for every 1,000, which puts the GGC’s six states among the 30 nations with the lowest infant mortality indicators. The progress has been made possible through governments using their vast oil wealth to provide free access to medical care for all.

But the increased affluence of the average GCC citizen over the past three decades has brought with it a host of new challenges. The region faces an explosion of chronic diseases; diabetes and obesity rates are soaring. The adoption of sedentary, Western lifestyles threatens to undo the gains made to date in each of the member states.

Since the GCC nations face similar health challenges, there is plenty to gain from collaborating on health reforms. The Health Ministers’ Council for the GCC states already does much to coordinate joint resolutions on tackling issues such as diabetes and heart disease, and promoting awareness campaigns. But its focus so far has been limited to the strategic level rather than encouraging cooperation over investment in infrastructure.

Given the short flying times between the countries and the small size of their populations, there is a strong argument for establishing regional referral centres to avoid the duplication of specialist clinical care offerings. A semi-integrated health system would not only reduce the amount of investment needed in new facilities, but would strengthen expertise and alleviate some of the staffing constraints.

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