Healthcare Sector Expects Local, Foreign Investment

People Desk
The Health Ministry has signed several memoranda of understanding for investments in mega hospitals (with over 1,500 beds) in the country, of which the most notable are with South Korea and China
Middle and long term courses for specific procedures in hospitals have been held inside and outside of Iran.
Middle and long term courses for specific procedures in hospitals have been held inside and outside of Iran.

More than 7% of Iran’s GDP is spent on healthcare and the need for large investments for new facilities, as well as refurbishing the existing ones is palpable. “Globally, nearly 10.5% of GDP is spent on healthcare,” said Dr. Iraj Harirchi, deputy health minister and spokesman of the Health Ministry.

Although Iran’s healthcare has improved remarkably since the current government took office in 2013, it is still facing shortcomings in various areas. Despite well-trained physicians and advancements in the medical sciences, it is not “business as usual” in the domestic healthcare sector.

“Given the increasing life expectancy, the need to expand healthcare services has increased considerably, and the sector is dealing with shortages in hospital beds, infrastructure and facilities, as well as staff,” Harirchi told the Financial Tribune, on the sidelines of a press conference attended by the local and foreign media on Monday, on the occasion of National Physician’s Day (August 22).

“These shortcomings call for investments in both educational facilities to train healthcare personnel, and in construction of new medical centers.”

Currently, there are 1.7 beds for every 1,000 people, which translate into a shortage of 100,000 beds nationwide. Additionally, 57% of the existing beds are worn-out.

The ministry plans to increase the bed-strength to 2.6 beds for every 1,000 in the next five-year economic development plan (2016-2021) through local and foreign investments. On the return on investments in healthcare, he said the issue is different from that in other sectors. “Since investment in this sector takes years to yield tangible profits, we must offer investors with effective investment guarantees and we have done that,” Harirchi maintained.

   Ready for Int’l Cooperation

Many countries have expressed interest in investing in Iran’s healthcare including Japan, South Korea, and China, as well as Turkey, Italy and Austria.

Feasibility studies for a number of projects have been carried out by foreign companies in cooperation with experts from Tehran’s Sharif University of Technology.

“We have signed several memoranda of understanding for investments in mega hospitals (with over 1,500 beds) in the country, the most notable of which are with South Korea and China,” he said but did not go into details.

“Our proposal was for them to invest in 20,000 beds (25% of the current shortage).”

While the ministry “is not very satisfied with the progress in foreign investment,” it hopes to see better results by the end of President Hassan Rouhani’s first term in 2017.

The health sector has also signed MoUs with Russia and several African nations as well as regional countries to produce and export medicine, medical equipment, disposable medical supplies, and knowhow. Middle and long term courses for specific procedures and methods in hospitals have been held in the Republic of Azerbaijan upon Baku’s request.

The ministry is also encouraging local companies to cooperate. It is negotiating with the giant MAPNA Group (a consortium of Iranian companies involved in development and execution of projects in various sectors) to import the knowhow to produce MRI machines.

  Major Achievements

Harirchi further said the Social Office headed by a deputy set up at the Health Ministry for the first time “is notable.”

There are many social factors influencing people’s health and the office is tasked with identifying and evaluating the social determinants of health (SDHs), he said.

The office will plan and execute a national model for eliciting the participation of the public, NGOs, and charitable organizations in the health sector. It has a mandate to define policies to increase people’s role in improving health indicators, promote a culture of active participation or volunteerism in healthcare services, interact with public figures and the media to harness their potential in enhancing health services, and design schemes to use non-governmental resources to develop health services.

Other advancements include increasing health stations and clinics in outlying areas of cities to around 1,300 for the over 10 million dwellers, extending the Salamat Insurance to 10 million uninsured people, reducing c-sections by 7% and setting up 50 natural delivery wards in the country’s hospitals. He said progress also includes upgrading of 39,000 and provision of 21,000 new hospital beds, inaugurating 21 air emergency stations, reducing medicine shortage from 350 items in 2011 to almost 30 now, and making natural deliveries free of charge in all state-run hospitals.