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Kurdistan aims to be a regional healthcare hub

“When I graduated in 1997 from the Erbil College of Medicine there were no CT scans, no MRIs, no drugs and no hospitals,” recalls Dr. Rekawt H. Rashid Karim, KRG minister of Health. “Now every year there is improvement.”Patients across Iraq are taking notice and travelling to Kurdistan to seek out the best medical service within the country. Numbers have risen so much that when the border with Iraq was temporarily closed patient numbers at a privately run Kurdistan Hospital dropped 60 percent.

“We now do heart surgery in the three governorates – Sulaimaniya, Duhok and Erbil – neurosurgical operations and renal transplants,” adds Dr. Karim. “In 1997 this was unthinkable.”
This year alone three new government-funded hospitals will be completed in Erbil, with a further ten to be built across Kurdistan. Agreements are also to be finalised on a bone marrow centre, heart centre and paediatric centre.

With only 4.8 percent of the KRG budget directed to health, covering only 40 percent of its needs, most of Kurdistan’s healthcare improvements have been attributed to foreign investment. Until now US$195 million has been invested in 17 healthcare projects with interest coming from large companies like GE Healthcare, foreign aid provider USAID, and technical assistance from the UK’s National Health Service and other medical bodies.

“We are a tax-free country where the government is providing support and raising awareness about its developed healthcare system,” says Darbaz Kosrat Rasool, chairman of one of Iraq’s leading private hospitals, PAR. “We aim to meet the expectations of our people by providing the finest levels of healthcare similar to our neighbours, yet at cheaper prices.”

The investment law has also assisted the KRG in making use of its vast expatriate network, successfully enticing health specialists to return to start their own private clinics, hospitals and pharmaceutical plants.
“We are trying to encourage expat doctors that have experience in western healthcare to come and work in the Kurdistan region,” adds Rasool. “We have a lot of physicians who are Iraqi.”

Despite vast improvements, challenges still exist in controlling pharmaceutical drug standards, ensuring similar quality levels between public and privately-run hospitals, and in modernising medical staff-patient relations to international standards.

To overcome these, the government has worked with security forces and other agencies to control the quality of drugs that enter Kurdistan. Over 650 tonnes of expired and low-quality drugs have so far been removed, with every drug now entering Kurdistan tested by the UK company, Food and Drug Analytical Services Ltd. Two local pharmaceutical companies, Pioneer and Awamedica, have also stepped into the market by manufacturing high quality generic drug products, helping push out cheap counterfeit drugs.

Similarly a new universal health insurance law, moving through parliament, aims to create a more balanced health financing strategy for both the public and private systems. According to the health minister, Dr. Karim, once passed by parliament the new law could be up and running within six months.
“We are now planning the modification of the private healthcare sector, and are coordinating to give priority to those private hospitals that offer special services such as bone scans and radiotherapy,” adds Dr. Karim. “From 2003 until 2013 there has been much improvement but our dream and our vision is to expand on that.”

Leaders in the health industry
Eye on Par Hospital
Since officially opening its doors in February, PAR Hospital in Erbil Healthcare has begun to attract patients who previously travelled to Turkey, Jordan or Lebanon. Local people from Kurdistan and Iraq are now finding a similar high level of service in the new 200-bed PAR Hospital but at a much lower cost.
“The rich tend to travel abroad as local hospitals have not had the standards until now,” explains Darbaz Kosrat Rasool, chairman of PAR Hospital. “However the majority of people cannot afford treatment abroad.”

As well as offering the first interventional radiology services in Iraq, PAR hopes to be the first to provide tertiary care as it strives to achieve international standards and accreditation within two years. Already international investment partners have shown interest in building similar PAR facilities around Iraq.
“We are still on target but are having some problems with logistical support,” says Rasool. “The nurses in Iraq lack international medical care training, so our strategy now is to mix our local nursing staff with well-trained international nurses in order to pass on their experience.”

Medya Diagnostic Centre
One of the first public-private partnerships in Kurdistan, between the KRG and Raziana Company LLC, helped establish the US$30 million Medya Diagnostic Centre (MDC).Erbil Healthcare provides full service diagnostics and offers modern services including radiology tests via broadband to radiology consultants in the UK, international referrals and mobile services to non-ambulatory patients. In February it became the only laboratory in Iraq to receive international accreditation from the College of American Pathology.

“Some of our services are not available anywhere else in Iraq,” says Dana Qashani, MDC’s executive chairman. “We get patients from all over Iraq and we are thinking of opening branches in other cities in Iraq.”
Further goals the MDC wants to achieve include offering Iraq’s first PET/CT scanner, to effectively diagnose the spread of cancer, by 2014. A supportive health ministry means the MDC will soon sign an agreement with an international company to supply cyclotron to produce the necessary radioactive isotopes.

Iraq’s historical links with Britain also reach into Erbil healthcare, with many pharmacists, doctors and dentists graduating from the British system. Those graduates are now returning from the UK, bringing their experience and knowledge to the growing sector. The British Medical Council is also assisting the region establish its own medical council and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is helping set clinical standards for Kurdistan. Ministerial visits to UK hospitals also highlight the government’s long-term interest in replicating the NHS model in Kurdistan.


This post first appeared on Herbal Health Life, please read the originial post: here

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Kurdistan aims to be a regional healthcare hub


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