Oman Health Endowment Fund’s remit transcends Covid-19 fight

The launch of Oman’s first endowment fund dedicated to public healthcare services could not have come at a more opportune time, say market pundits.  In the week since it was rolled out, the fund has garnered several millions of Omani riyals in contributions from government, public and private sector organisations, and growing numbers of individuals as well.

But the mandate of the so-called Endowment Fund for Enhancing Healthcare Services is not limited to financing the government’s burgeoning campaign to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), with the Ministry of Health playing a frontline role.

Long in the making, the Endowment Fund grew out of the Health Ministry’s desire to ease its longstanding dependence on the government for its annual funding requirements.  It has its origins in reforms initiated by the Ministry in the wake of the fiscal crisis triggered by the slump in global oil prices in 2014 – the fallout of which continues to constrain Oman’s financial situation.

According to a senior official who helped craft the framework behind the first-of-its-kind Fund, the initiative is modelled on ‘Siraj’ – an endowment fund set up at the behest of the Education Council to help fund the development of higher education in the Sultanate.

Dr Halima al Hinai, Senior Consultant at the Ministry’s Directorate of Health Investment and Financing Alternatives, said the new endowment fund offers a “non-traditional approach” to help sustain the financing of the public healthcare sector in the Sultanate.

“The Ministry came up with the idea of setting up an endowment fund that (capitalises) on some of its assets, uses donations, and explores investments in partnership with Islamic banks,” the official recently told a conference on Islamic finance held in the city.

According to the official, the Healthcare Endowment Fund is being positioned as a primary source of finance for the running of Oman’s public healthcare sector in the future. “The Fund is proposed to eventually take over the financial burden of the Ministry, support the construction of hospitals, establish healthcare institutions at different levels, purchase hospital equipment and medicines, and support medical education and R&D in healthcare,” said Dr Al Hinai.  “It will also explore investments in healthcare related projects, such as pharmaceutical industries, private hospitals, and so on.”

Licensed banks, public listed companies, investment funds and private businesses are among scores of organisations that have announced generous contributions to the Fund in recent days.