The healthcare system in Kuwait has come under much debate in recent times and the government is considering putting in place different policies for locals and expats and also hiring local and foreign medical professionals at government health facilities.This is because the Kuwaiti parliament has put forth complaints that local patients are made to wait for treatment at public facilities on account of the many expats who come for medical assistance. Plans are underway to have 15 expat-only clinics across the country. The health ministry aims to make at least three hospitals operational by 2019.
The Kuwaiti healthcare system adheres to high standards. All citizens are eligible for medical treatment at no cost at all, at government hospitals. Expats can gain access to public healthcare by paying a yearly fee. This does not include additional facilities such as X-rays or other tests, for which expats have to pay extra.
The public healthcare system
Kuwait’s Ministry of Health (MoH) is the government body that runs the country’s public healthcare system. The ministry was established almost 80 years ago and is now one of the largest government ministries in the country.
The MoH aims to provide free, high-quality medical care to the citizens of the country through its network of public clinics and hospitals. The system is made up of a complex network of health centers that can be divided into three categories: primary, secondary, and specialized. The primary facilities offer health services including medical care from general practitioners, dentistry, maternity care, nursing care, preventive care, pharmaceuticals and family medicine. There are currently over 70 of these centers across the country.
There are six major hospitals that provide secondary healthcare. These are the Jahra hospital, the Amiri hospital, the Mubarak Al-kabeer, the Sabah, the Farwaniya, and the Adan.
Lastly, of course, there are the specialized centers that focus on specific ailments and conditions, and these centers include an obstetrics hospital, a hospital for burns, one for neurosurgery, and also the Kuwait Cancer Control Center.
There are five administrative regions in Kuwait. Each region has its own general public hospital that provides comprehensive outpatient facilities and round the clock emergency services. Kuwait also has a number of specialist hospitals. Public facilities are accessible to expats, although they may have to deal with long waiting times.
To diffuse some of the crowds at public facilities, the government has begun trials to prevent expats from using public healthcare facilities during certain times of the day. Also, in some of the outpatient facilities, Kuwaiti citizens are to be given precedence at public hospitals in the morning. Expats can access these facilities only in the afternoons. This, of course, excludes emergency cases. It is still unclear whether such strategies will be applied to all public healthcare centers in Kuwait.
Expats who wish to access public healthcare in the emirate are required to have a medical card. They will receive this card once they present their Civil ID card at the time of registering at the nearest hospital or clinic.
The private healthcare system
In Kuwait, private healthcare facilities offer improved services and have shorter waiting times than the public hospitals. The fees at private healthcare facilities are regulated by the government, but they can turn out to be expensive, as there are charges for registration along with the general medical fees. The curbs that the government is planning to implement in public hospitals will not affect those expats who have full medical insurance and access private healthcare facilities.
Private facilities in Kuwait adhere to high standards although the costs tend to be higher than those in public hospitals. Some private clinics refuse to accept local health insurance, so expats should ensure that they have other options for coverage, such as travel insurance or international health insurance, and that these cover everything including medical repatriation, which may be required in certain serious cases.
Supermarkets in Kuwait carry some basic non-prescription medicines like cough syrups. But expats may require a prescription to acquire many medications that are usually freely available in the United States or Europe. There are certain medications, such as sleeping pills and tranquilizers, that are prohibited in Kuwait. Expats who need these medicines will have to bring them from their home countries along with the prescription and a letter from their doctor.
Health problems in Kuwait
Kuwait’s climate is extremely hot. This and the humidity, along with the desert dust and continuous building work, can pose as health hazards in the emirate. Expats, especially those with respiratory conditions, may face difficulties in such an environment.
Manual workers often suffer from heat stroke, sunburn and exhaustion due to the persistent and intense heat, the constant inhalation of dust and sand, and the long hours of arduous work. At temperatures of 50°C, which sometimes occur during the peak of summer, workers should be excused from outdoor work. The humidity can lead to further health problems such as eye infections. Dehydration is always a looming concern and could turn fatal if proper care is not taken. It can also occur to those engaged in outdoor sports, including leisurely ones like golf.
Winters in Kuwait, which last from October to March, bring much needed respite to the emirate and can have some of the best weather in the world. The warm sunshine brings about a sense of wellbeing and enables people to enjoy a more outdoorsy lifestyle.
In Kuwait, ambulances are employed only in cases of serious emergency. Most expats use their own vehicles or take a taxi to hospital. The emergency number in Kuwait is 112, and most of the emergency dispatch operators are fluent in English. Ambulance services are usually under the control of the police or state hospitals and are used mainly for road accidents. If you have to reach a hospital quickly, the most reliable mode of transport would be your own vehicle or a taxi. This is common across the region. Even when road accidents occur, victims are taken to hospital in cars or taxis, unless their injuries are too serious. Police and emergency services do have helicopter services on call, but these are reserved for road accidents, evacuations from difficult terrain or beach accidents such as drowning.
Upon arrival in Kuwait, expats are advised to note down the emergency telephone numbers, the locations of the nearest major hospitals and what facilities they offer, and the fastest route to the nearest hospital that has an emergency ward. Also important is to have with you the telephone number of a taxi service in case you don’t have your own transport. Private doctors usually make house calls even in non-emergency situations.
Follow the procedure below in case of a medical emergency.
• If possible, head directly to the nearest healthcare facility that has an emergency or accident ward
• If you can’t travel with your own transport, call the ambulance number. The operator will usually speak Arabic and English and will respond depending on the language you use. You will be requested to provide your name and address, and the nature of the medical problem. It is important to make it clear if it is a serious, life-threatening condition such as a heart attack.
• Request the telephone operator to tell you the duration within which the ambulance will arrive and whether there will be trained medical personnel on hand.
• If you choose to take a taxi, ensure that the driver or the taxi company is made aware of the urgency of the situation.
It is compulsory to have health insurance in Kuwait. The public healthcare system is accessible through the state insurance scheme. Expats have to pay into this scheme annually. However the scheme does not include treatment at private healthcare facilities. For this reason, it is advisable for expats in Kuwait to acquire full health coverage for as long as they decide to live in Kuwait.
The cost of comprehensive health insurance used to be around 70 USD, but this was dependent on the fact that in Kuwait, much of the healthcare for expats was government-supplemented. The 2016 changes to the law led to in increase in the costs of health insurance for expats. Therefore it is necessary to speak with your health insurance provider to explore the best options.
When buying a health insurance policy, do some research and examine the small print, especially about what is and isn’t included in the coverage. All insurance policies have certain restrictions, for instance, ‘pre-existing’ conditions may not be covered. Also, certain occupations are not covered or involve surcharges, and high-risk sports are often excluded, even though what constitutes a ‘high-risk’ sport varies depending on the insurer. Many insurance providers also restrict the costs for a specific treatment within a year and also have an annual overall limit for all types of treatment.
Beware of policies that limit the number of days that you are permitted to spend in hospital. Insurance schemes may carry an upper age limit and it would be best to avoid those that terminate at retirement. If you have to acquire a new insurance policy once the age limit is reached, it will be hard to get one that has an affordable premium. Some companies end policies at the end of the predetermined period if they feel they have incurred very high costs.
Expats buying an international policy should also take note that some policies do not include cover in the United States due to the high medical fees there. It may be possible to pay to have different types of cover added, but it can work out to be expensive. Insurance companies insist in claim forms being fully filled out by the appropriate doctor, and although many doctors find this to be a tedious task, it is essential that you ensure that it is done.
The Kuwaiti government is aiming at comprehensive reforms of the national health care system. Plans include limiting the number of patients going abroad for treatment and placing greater emphasis on preventive healthcare through encouraging a healthier lifestyle, and providing screening services.
The government’s Kuwait Development Plan (KDP) includes reforms to the national healthcare system. The MoH aims to establish eight hospitals and hospital extensions, the cost of which is expected to be 1 billion USD. There has also been 4.2 billion USD allocated by the Ministry of Public Works to build nine more hospitals that will increase the number of beds available in government healthcare facilities to 3,334. This will also create new jobs.
The new facilities will enable the government to provide more specialized treatment within the country, aiding in reducing the national healthcare bill by limiting the number of people going abroad for medical treatment.
A number of locals have been traveling out of the country for medical treatment and this has been a long-time concern of the government. Some steps have already been taken to tackle this problem and there has been some progress. According to the MoH, the new measures taken during the previous year regarding the improvement of the standards of public health facilities has led to fewer Kuwaitis travelling to other countries for treatment. The government has also decided to limit the daily allowances provided to Kuwaitis going abroad for medical treatment and also to those who accompany them.
Nearly all cases of cancer in Kuwaiti patients are treated abroad. This is also the case with diabetes. As a result many healthcare providers have introduced screening programs and specialized care for diabetes. A recent study conducted in the Gulf region found that life expectancy could improve by 17 percent and reduce treatment costs by 8 percent by making patients aware about diabetes. Although screening facilities and treatment measures can be further improved, such initiatives by the government can go a long way in strengthening Kuwait’s healthcare sector.
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