Oman’s private sector urged to boost investment in Covid-19 care

The Sultanate’s Ministry of Health has urged private health establishments to ramp up their investments and capabilities in the management of COVID-19 patients, given the likelihood that the novel coronavirus will remain part of Oman’s – and indeed the wider world’s — disease burden for the foreseeable future.

A top official of the Ministry, while welcoming initial efforts by private hospitals to ease the burden on the government in the handling and treatment of COVID-19 infections, underlined the urgent need for the private sector to build new capacity to help deal with a continuous stream of cases expected over the coming years.

“We commend the private healthcare sector for the steps it has taken in shouldering part of the burden on the government in the treatment of COVID-19 patients.  But these measures are short-term and not adequate to address the demand for COVID care from private patients — Omani or expatriate – going forward.  We are urging the private sector to think strategically and start investing in new COVID-specific capacity, be it in the form of dedicated Intensive Care Units (ICUs), equipment, and suitably trained healthcare staff,” said Dr. Mazin al Khabori (pictured), Director-General of Private Health Establishments.

COVID care in the Sultanate was until recently handled almost exclusively by government and public sector hospitals, but a strong uptick in the infection trend, particularly among expatriates, has since prompted authorities to rope in private hospitals in shouldering some of the burdens.

“Accordingly, we began a series of meeting with private hospitals and began engaging with them on the need to make their facilities COVID-compliant,” Dr. Al Khabori explained. “New guidelines were issued to ensure that patients turning up for non-COVID care were not exposed to the infection.  Teams were sent out to hospitals in the capital area, as well as in the governorate, to train private healthcare staff in, for example, the proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE), disinfection procedures, and pathways for the handling of any COVID-19 cases arriving at their facilities.

At the same time, we began discussions with the Capital Market Authority (CMA) with the goal of bringing on board insurance firms in extending their coverage to COVID-19 patients.  After extensive deliberations, and with the Ministry of Health as a mediator, we reached an agreement.  The tariff system formulated by the Ministry was broadly welcomed by all stakeholders as relatively fair in the recovery of costs, although not perfect,” he further stated.

In calling for heightened investment in private healthcare, the official also cited sizable disparities in the allocation of hospital beds for expatriates.  In Muscat Governorate, the bed allocation ratio stands at a dismal 7.8 beds per 10,000 people, which slumps further to 5.02 beds / 10,000 nationally.  For Omanis, the ratio is 44.6 beds / 10,000 in the capital region versus 22.36 beds / 10,000 nationally.

Private hospitals in Muscat Governorate offer a total of around 840 beds, which includes around 50 for intensive care – a woefully inadequate number, according to Dr. Al Khabori.