Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
The three-day C3 Saudi-US Healthcare Summit will begin on April 27 in Riyadh. An event of this nature assumes great importance in a country, which is trying to introduce reforms in the health sector. In the case of Saudi Arabia, the holding of this summit is of huge importance because we don’t need minor reforms in this sector, it needs a major overhauling. Participants of the event can throw light on effective ways to turn around the health care sector for the benefit of the country and its people. This program can help us learn ways to advance health care diplomacy, education and innovations. Speaking of the health sector, which is most difficult job at a hospital? In my opinion, it surely is not performing complicated surgeries on patients in the operation theater. The toughest task is to effectively run a hospital by utilizing its resources properly. Perhaps, this is aspect is the most ignored one in the Kingdom’s health sector. Effective management and proper planning are the keywords. We desperately need to implement the modern concepts of management and planning so as to effectively utilize the resources allocated for the health care sector by the government, which incidentally is in billions. Saudi Arabia is one of those few countries of the world, which does not levy any tax on people’s incomes and still it offers free health care to all its citizens. The Kingdom has the biggest world-class health care facilities in the region. In addition to the state-owned health facilities, the Kingdom has a huge number of private hospitals and clinics. Saudi Arabia has one of the highest health expenditure per capita in the world. There is, however, a little problem with this. The bigger the budget and the medical centers, the more it is difficult to effectively monitor the performance of the health sector and its related departments. Saudi Arabia is a huge country and the public health care is run and monitored by the Ministry of Health through 13 directorates in 13 provinces. So, we have hundreds of hospitals and clinics scattered all over the Kingdom that should be monitored by the 13 directorates, which are also monitored by the Ministry of Health. And this is simply very difficult if not impossible. In other words, it will be difficult to put for example an MRI machine with operators and maintenance crew in each city, town or village in the Kingdom. And I don’t know how countries with large areas and scattered towns like Australia or Canada do it. Or how do large countries like Saudi Arabia should do it? As for Saudi Arabia, it is impossible to build large or specialized hospital in every city. People have seen very expensive medical equipment that are not utilized or not used because of a lack of maintenance or shortage of operators at the hospitals especially in smaller towns. There is severe shortage of Saudi doctors and nurses (male and female) and majority of the medical staff is expatriates being hired by the Ministry of Health. And for now, it is important now to educate and train as many Saudis as possible in the Kingdom or abroad because it is easy to build a hospital and equip it with modern gadgets but it is very difficult to find the manpower to run it, not only in Saudi Arabia, but, in any other country. And what is more serious is that Saudi Arabia does have many foreign-educated skilled doctors but we lack qualified hospital administrators who could run the hospitals. The C3 Saudi-US Healthcare Summit is an opportunity to take serious steps toward reforming the Saudi health care system. It is important to enhance more cooperation between Saudi health organizations and major US health care centers to develop ways to effectively run hospitals and clinics. The Saudi Cultural Mission in Washington could play an effective role in this regard. There are hundreds of Saudi doctors on scholarships in the US and they can prove to be assets in advancing our health care system. Dr. Samar Alsaggaf, the director of the Department of Medical and Health Science Programs at SACM will be one of the speakers at the summit. According to Dr. Alsaggaf, a large number of Saudi doctors are working in the US. The bottom line is we need health care reforms in the Kingdom. Not tomorrow but now. Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. Time to Overhaul Health Sector reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.