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HE Abdulla bin Khalid Al-Qahtani

QATAR - Health & Education

Natural Shields

Minister of Health & Secretary General of the SCH, Qatar

Bio

HE Abdulla bin Khalid Al-Qahtani holds a Master’s degree in Accounting from the American University in Washington, DC. He became a certified public accountant (CPA) in Maryland in 1998. Al-Qahtani has held several important positions, including Undersecretary of the Ministry of Economy and Trade, Director General of the Organizing Committee of the Asian Games, and Senior Manager of the Financial Control Department at Qatar National Bank (QNB). He has also been a member on several boards, such as the Qatar Central Bank, the Supreme Council for Economic Affairs and Investment, and the National Health Authority (NHA). Al-Qahtani is Minister of Health and Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Health (SCH) since it was established in 2009, replacing the NHA.

"Changing human knowledge, attitudes, and practices is our target."

What are some of the success indicators seen in local healthcare provision of late, and what innovations can we expect to see in the medium term?

Over the past two years, significant progress has been made, with over 11% of outputs completed. The outcomes of the National Health Strategy (NHS) will, more often than not, be realized after the outputs have been achieved. In order to measure the NHS, a robust monitoring and evaluation framework is being established to ensure all outputs are measured and reported appropriately. In addition, the NHS has grown over the past two years, and with this growth comes more detailed planning, as well as a 27% increase in outputs. The NHS is building evolving foundations over time for a long-term sustainable change in the health sector. Some of the other indicators of success we have achieved so far are better governance, a comprehensive primary care strategy, the first phase of a social health insurance, the establishment of the Qatar Council for Healthcare Practitioners, a laboratory integration and standardization strategy, some key legislation developed to support the work of the NHS, and increased collaboration on projects to improve the health system of Qatar. Over the coming two to three years, the NHS is due to complete a number of projects. Some of the successes that the public will soon see are the launching of an appointment system to make a more efficient use of time, the opening of 18 new health centers, an increase in the number of rehabilitation beds available across Qatar, and the opening of a new physical medicine and rehabilitation hospital with 200 beds in 2015. Also, we are going to be publishing a national mental health strategy to promote good mental health and wellbeing, to prevent mental illnesses, and to develop tailored, quality services that can be accessed when mental health issues occur. Similarly, a community pharmacies strategy will improve patient access to pharmaceuticals at a wide range of convenient locations.

How will the new approach to healthcare in Qatar look to address lifestyle issues?

The establishment of clinical guidelines for Qatar based on international best practices is also something people can expect to see, as we move from a curative approach on healthcare to a preventative one. In that regard, a national action plan for tobacco will focus on tobacco cessation and enhance the enforcement of the new tobacco law when it is decreed. Similarly, we are developing national dietary guidelines to encourage people to eat a healthy diet that focuses on foods and beverages that help achieve and maintain a healthy weight, promote health, and prevent disease. We are also planning the development of robust occupational health and safety guidelines to mitigate occupational health diseases and accidents across all workplaces and a food safety authority that will provide consumers with the reassurance that they are receiving safe and high-quality imported and locally produced food. For parents, there will be a breastfeeding and complimentary feeding education program to support new families. Finally, Qataris can also expect to see more effective patient advocacy services as well as the establishment of e-health services.

“Changing human knowledge, attitudes, and practices is our target.”

What efforts are being made in order to increase the propagation of e-health in Qatar?

Qatar has an immense vision for developing and embedding e-health into the fabric of its healthcare system. It has committed considerable resources through the NHS to establish a health data management program (NHS Project 2.3). The country has already made great strides in e-health and health information management. The three main government providers of healthcare, PHCC, HMC, and Sidra, have all started implementing Cerner Millennium, a sophisticated electronic medical record and clinical information system that will improve patient care. This, combined with the national strategies and infrastructure that the SCH will be leading, will deliver a high-tech, e-health system that supports the functions highlighted by the World Health Organization (WHO). For example, later in 2013, the SCH will begin developing a long-term national vision, national strategies, and action plans for improving health data and data management, as well as e-health in Qatar across all providers. Through NHS projects 2.3 and 2.4, a number of initiatives and outputs will show Qatar leading the way in e-health in the Middle East. These include a centralized data warehouse for all healthcare data, electronic health records, an innovative health information exchange to facilitate sharing health records between providers, data governance, security and confidentiality policies, national data standards that standardize data across the country, and a range of other enabling technologies and structures.

How is the SCH’s Department of Research helping the country become a center of research excellence?

In alignment with the Qatar National Vision 2030, this department aims at high-quality research directed at improving the effectiveness and quality of health care. Qatar has embarked on an ambitious research program to allocate 2.8% of its GDP for research. Research activities, however, need to be carried out with the highest scientific practices and be performed in accordance with national and international laws. The SCH plays a central role in setting forth the research governance framework within the health R&D ecosystem in Qatar. This framework aims at the coordination of research activities, the allocation of funds, and the development of a stakeholder exchange mechanism across the spectrum of biomedical research, clinical research, public health research, and public policy. While clinical effectiveness research is an essential tool for the successful promotion of health and effective health services, it can also involve an element of risk for the safety and wellbeing of participants. Therefore, in order to eliminate this risk, the Research Department has developed a systematic model that is aimed at governing the ethical conduct of research in Qatar. The Department has developed a number of policies and regulations for conducting research on human subjects, the use of stem cells and gene transfer in humans, and clinical effectiveness research. These ethics regulations have been recently promulgated into a legislative decree. In order to ensure that research activities are ethically responsible and scientifically sound, the Department has developed a system for the registration of reliable institutional review boards, committees, and the like to comply with national regulations. The Department is striving to embed the rules of research ethics within the research community in Qatar via continuous training and guidance, and an international publication, BMC Medical Ethics 2012, has recently placed Qatar on top of the list in research ethics and regulation in the Middle East.

How is the Ministry helping to increase awareness of family planning and the prevention of endemic diseases?

First, in Qatar, I confirm there are no endemic communicable diseases, as we don’t have any recognized hosts that can spread communicable diseases. In addition, we have one of the lowest incidence rates of HIV and malaria, and we are working to strengthen tuberculosis control. In terms of endemic non-communicable diseases (NCDs), we do have a high prevalence of diabetes (17%), high blood pressure (32.9% for adults between 18 and 64), and other risk factors, such as obesity (more than 40%) and smoking (16.4% for both sexes). As more than 60% of deaths are due to NCDs, SCH is working on different awareness programs targeting nutrition, physical activity, healthy lifestyles, and smoking cessation. SCH has also established NCD clinics in each primary healthcare center and launched a diabetes center in Hamad General Hospital in July 2013, with a plan to roll out such models across the country in the subsequent months. Changing human knowledge, attitudes, and practices is our target and we have started to move toward it, but it will certainly take some time before we can achieve the results we desire.

© The Business Year – September 2013

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