Lifestyle diseases to raise healthcare spend

By Samuel Kutty — MUSCAT: Feb 25 – The Sultanate’s healthcare tab is expected to rise fueled mainly by demographic changes and high incidence of lifestyle-related illnesses. Currently, the country’s per capita health spending is less than $800 compared with $4,000 in Europe and $9,000 in the United States. “But this is expected to rise in the coming years as more and more residents suffer from ailments such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and cancer,” said an official in the Ministry of Health. This trend is a result of sedentary lifestyle patterns and a shift from traditional, nutritious diets to fast foods, he said.

Total healthcare expenditure in the country accounts for almost 2.7 per cent of GDP, with 81.1 per cent of this expenditure covered by the government. In the 2017 budget, RO 613 million has been allocated for health sector as against RO 627.6 million in 2016. In the next four years, residents can expect the tab to increase as the cost of medicines and other pharmaceutical products are forecast to rise significantly. “The government’s determination to provide all its citizens with free, basic health care, along with treating persistent diabetes and cardiovascular disease, means that health-related expenditures are growing,” a report from the ministry points out.

In the Middle East and Africa region, the total healthcare bills have gone up by 8.8 per cent in 2012, 9.8 per cent in 2013 and 10 per cent in 2014. According to a report by Alpen Capital, Oman’s healthcare expenditure is expected to reach $4.3 billion by 2020, from $2.3 billion in 2015, which translates into a five-year compound annual growth rate of 12.9 per cent. “Expenditure is set to rise as the population grows, with the Sultanate expected to experience a 3.1 per cent population growth rate between 2015 and 2020, which is considered one of the key drivers for the surge in expenditure,” Alpen said in the report.

According to Ministry of Health data, there were 46.8 per cent Omanis among a total of 45,654 patients admitted and treated in private hospitals in 2014, despite the fact that Omanis can be treated without charge in government hospitals. The country provides 83.1 per cent of the hospitals, 92.5 per cent of hospital beds, 62.2 per cent of outpatient services, and 94.5 per cent of inpatient services. The country’s healthcare infrastructure now boasts around 67 modern hospitals with almost 6,000 beds, a ratio of 2.1 beds for every 1,000 citizens in addition to more than 242 health centres and close to 1,000 private clinics throughout the Sultanate.

“Oman is focused on upgrading its facilities and diagnostic capabilities. The Ministry of Health has expressed interest in US healthcare information management technologies as part of its efforts to standardise operations and establish interconnectivity among Oman’s hospitals and regional clinics,” a report from the ministry said. However, the ministry has been reducing the prices of the most commonly used medicines in Oman, in phases over the past years. In June 2015, the ministry revised the prices of 1,180 drugs, including those of respiratory system diseases, psychiatric, ENT, eye, cancers, blood diseases and vaccines.