OMAN - Health & Education
Director General, Royal Hospital
Qasem Al Salmi graduated from the Sultan Qaboos University College of Medicine and did his residency and fellowship training in Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Texas. There, he attained US board certification in pediatrics and pediatric pulmonology. He also completed a master’s degree in public health from the University of Texas-Houston. Besides being a senior consultant pediatrician and pediatric pulmonologist, Al Salmi is the Director General of Royal Hospital. He is the chairman or member of several top-level planning and advisory committees at national and international levels. He serves as WHO’s expert and a member of the governing council of the international hospital federation. He has many scientific contributions and publications in peer-reviewed journals.
We started preparing for COVID-19 when we heard about the first cases in China, before it even became a pandemic. We had contingency plans in place for such similar incidents but did not expect the magnitude of this one. We made preparations by allocating the space in terms of general beds and ICU emergency rooms. We also had to stockpile some of our consumables, protective gear and medications. We had to prepare and train our staff. Even with our preparations we always had to go back, review, and improve as the pandemic progressed. Being a government hospital and the main hospital in the country brings challenges and expectations. The expectation is for this hospital to be the main backup if a patient does not have anywhere else to go. We always had to find a way to accommodate an increasing number of patients. As a state hospital, our patients do not pay for the services received. This made it a challenge since every time we needed to increase our budget we had to approach the ministry to support us.
To date, we have been the tertiary care hospital for the country, so we are expected to take care of the most complex cases and perform the most complex surgeries. There are no private hospitals that are developed enough to deal with more serious and complex cases. They have ICUs, they are equipped and skilled at providing excellent care for mild and moderate cases, but they usually refer more complex cases to government hospitals. We hope to see more private hospitals working toward establishing care for complex cases. As a government hospital, we support them during this period so they can establish this scenario and generate revenues, while also serving the community.
We have seen substantial investments in healthcare over the past few years when Oman announced it would implement mandatory health insurance for all non-citizens. There were a good number of hospitals built, including the Oman International Hospital, NMC, and Burjeel. This is positive for the country in terms of infrastructure and equipment, as they are also recruiting the right caliber of medical staff to provide quality care to our patients. When the implementation of mandatory health insurance is applied, we will likely see more investment into the country. We hope one day there will also be medical tourism here, although at this stage private hospitals are not at that level.
The latest consideration is AI, and we have started doing research with other hospitals and government sectors in this direction. One of them is in imaging and radiology, and we have advanced quite a bit in breast imaging. This appears to be the future for the next technology development in healthcare. 3D printing has also been in the market for a while and is making a difference. We are using 3D printing for pediatric patients who require heart surgery. It helps to improve the outcome for such patients, and we will have more uses of it in the future.
In the past, we used to have mostly communicable diseases, like measles, mumps, TB, and so on. We are now seeing more non-communicable diseases because life expectancy is improving and because of lifestyle changes over the years—eating habits, types of foods, and inactivity, among other factors. We are seeing more cases of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. While they are not above the average international rate, because of the growing elderly population, they are expected to increase further.
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