Opinion and Editorial

Healthcare solutions through partnerships

Aziz Koleilat
Filed on April 18, 2010

The Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) region is one of the world’s fastest growing economic blocs. The six economies together are expected to grow by 56 per cent to $2 trillion over the next 10 years while the population is projected to record an increase of 30 per cent to 53.5 million. The social costs of this fast-paced growth, however, are now a cause of concern.

Overall healthcare costs in the GCC region are expected to be as high as $60 billion by 2025, nearly five times more than the expense currently incurred by the governments.

Healthcare indicators are even alarming: In the UAE alone, more than one-third of the national population is clinically obese and about one in four shows evidence of being diabetic. According to the recent health screening figures, more than one in six of UAE nationals have high blood pressure and at least one-fourth of all men screened admitted to smoking. For an economy in the fast lane to progress, such health projections can have a debilitating impact. This, in essence, was the message of World Health Day that was celebrated from April 7-11, under the auspices of World Health Organisation (WHO).

This year, the focus of World Health Day — ‘Urbanisation — A Challenge for Public Health’ — is pertinent to the challenges that the GCC region faces. Although no city in the region as yet figures in the list of megacities, it is only a matter of time that booming population and unprecedented infrastructure development will create new urban clusters that can challenge existing urban planning frameworks.

With urbanisation comes health risks associated with water, environment, violence and injury, non-communicable disease, and risk factors like smoking, unbalanced diets, sedentary living, substance abuse and the potential for disease outbreaks. World Health Day is a reminder that drawing a holistic perspective of current and future healthcare challenges is not an option anymore – it is an imperative – and inaction to address them in time is inexcusable, not only to the society we live but also for future generations.

Healthcare is a fundamental pillar of sustainable development, and any policy guideline that considers long-term growth must encompass healthcare as an integral part. Indeed, the integration of environment with healthcare is the way forward.

In addressing the healthcare challenges, a three-pronged approach is inevitable: partnerships, innovation and the transformation of healthcare delivery via a sustainable model of care. GE Healthcare, the healthcare business of General Electric company (GE), encapsulates these three overarching approaches in its ‘healthymagination’ initiative, focused on “continuously developing innovations to reduce costs, increase access and improve quality and efficiency of healthcare delivery around the world.” With the public and private sectors playing equally important and complementary roles in healthcare delivery in the Middle East region, partnerships that integrate the competencies of governments and private enterprises is an extremely crucial part of the strategy. While governments offer the society the strength of a reliable healthcare infrastructure, the private sector has the ability to bring to the table new technologies and solutions. This ensures a win-win situation for all stakeholders — most crucially, for the public, who can benefit from economies of scale as well as better access to advanced healthcare. Partnerships must transcend mere collaborations in research and knowledge sharing. It must also encompass continuous training and financial support where needed — aspects where both the public and private sector can play a role, as has been demonstrated by GE Healthcare in the region. The second key strategy is a focus on innovation, especially in medical technologies. Today, the manifestations and treatments of diseases are evolving. New strains of organisms, with increased resistance to tried-and-tested treatments, are emerging, so are unheard of disease conditions that put entire communities at risk.

Continuous innovation is critical to the earlier detection and management of diseases and ensuring good health in a fast changing world. Along with the governmental emphasis on investments in healthcare innovation, the private sector must also stress on improving their R&D.

The third and pivotal strategy for an integrated healthcare policy is the necessity of promoting a sustainable “earlier health” model of care. It is an accepted fact that rising healthcare costs can be managed if diseases are diagnosed earlier and treatment options provided when they can be more effective. This is particularly relevant for “lifestyle diseases” associated with the sedentary living in the urban world.

Obesity, stress related cardiac problems and diabetes are effectively addressed through earlier intervention while the efficacy of cancer treatment has been clinically proven to be potentially better if the condition is identified early.

Healthcare is a collective responsibility and working towards a healthier society is important from an economic growth perspective. The anchor points of any dynamic society are its people. Their productivity is the essence of development.

Innovative healthcare delivery through continued partnerships is thus a prime driver in ensuring sustainable development.

Aziz Koleilat is General Manager at GE Healthcare for the Middle East region. The views expressed in this column are his own and not necessarily that of the organisation

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