Healthcare Making Progress

People Desk
Under the 2014 Health Reform Plan, Salamat Insurance has brought nearly 40 million uninsured people under coverage, providing for easier and less expensive access to healthcare
The reforms helped reduce healthcare costs by 30% since their implementation.
The reforms helped reduce healthcare costs by 30% since their implementation.

With presidential elections just around the corner (May 19), the incumbent administration’s first term in office is under scrutiny in several areas, including healthcare – key indicators of a nation’s development and wellbeing. It can be said that this probably is one area that has seen growth over the past four years.

Although there are still shortcomings in the medical system and services, the outgoing government of President Hassan Rouhani has taken major strides towards improvement.

Before this government and prior to the launch of Health Reform Plan in 2014, public healthcare and services were saddled with numerous problems, namely  insufficient facilities, high medical costs, and centralization of specialized care in large cities.

The reforms helped reduce healthcare costs by 30% since their implementation, according to the government’s official portal What follows is a look at the four major steps the government has taken since it took office in 2013.

  National Insurance Coverage

For the centrist administration investment in the health sector became a priority from the start, and the president made good on his campaign promise of healthcare for all Iranians by 2018 under a nationwide health insurance program.

Salamat (health) Insurance has brought nearly 40 million uninsured under coverage, providing for easier and less expensive access to healthcare.

According to Health Ministry spokesperson Iraj Harirchi, the reform plan has also provided basic healthcare facilities to 11 million marginalized people (living in informal settlements).

“Almost 65% of this segment of the population had never received any form of healthcare service, but more than 1,290 health clinics and 3,840 urban health stations set up over the past three years have helped extend coverage,” he was quoted as saying by ISNA.

There is currently one health center for every 12,000 people in unofficial settlements, and one clinic for every 50,000 people.

For the first time, chemotherapy and radiotherapy is offered to those covered by Salamat Insurance free of charge at government cancer centers in the 31 provinces. Despite their long queues and limited numbers, the centers are of major help to the 92,000 new cancer cases diagnosed annually.

  Upsurge in Hospital Beds

Through his minister of health, Hassan Qazizadeh Hashemi, there has been greater investment in state-run hospitals and medical equipment, and physicians have been encouraged (with much higher remuneration) to work in the far-flung and deprived areas.

Adding 24,000 hospital beds in four years, a 30% increase over the previous administration’s contribution (which added 14,000 in eight years), was another major step. Prior to health reforms, there were 97,600 hospital beds.

Hashemi says no doubt it will take another 40 years to meet the country’s full demand of hospital beds and facilities on par with global standards, but progress has been made.

Additionally, the country’s medical emergency services (hotline 115) were equipped with air emergency stations and choppers for the first time. Now there are 21 such stations across the country.

  Promotion of Healthy Lifestyles

The Health Ministry also tackled leading causes of premature death among Iranians. With his motto of prioritizing prevention over treatment, Hashemi devised in 2015 a document on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and protocols for all state bodies to address the key risk factors and reduce mortality in the 30-70 age groups within 10 years (2015-2025).

The National Document on Prevention of NCDs was introduced in October 2015 at the 62nd session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Eastern Mediterranean in Kuwait.

One of the main targets of the ambitious plan of action is to reduce deaths caused by cardiovascular, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory disorders by 25%.

Implementation of the 24/7 project for cardiac care at select specialty hospitals also increased hope for treating severe heart attacks. Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are the leading cause of premature death among Iranians claiming 51% of the annual death rate.  

The project, launched in over 50 hospitals in Iran, provides for direct access to primary coronary intervention services for patients suffering from acute heart attacks and in need of cardiac revascularization.

  Dental Care

The government’s determination to help improve dental services has seen strides in oral healthcare over the past two years. A major step was the establishment of the Oral Health Council at the ministry in the previous fiscal  that ended on March 20.

Previously, the field of dentistry had no authoritative representation at the ministry, but after Hashemi took charge, a department was set up for the purpose.

According to Hamid Samadzadeh, director of the ministry’s Oral and Dental Health Department, formerly 80% of the health centers, especially in the rural areas, had no dental services and many villages were deprived of oral care services.

Besides upgrading dental equipment, 1,400 dentists have been appointed across the country, and over 48 comprehensive dental care facilities have opened in various regions.

Fluoride varnish application programs in schools are part of the ministry’s efforts to prevent widespread oral and dental problems. The program has reached 80% coverage of the total 14 million students.

Brushing aside criticism of the health reforms, Samadzadeh believes that the nationwide plan “has challenges and weaknesses that demand cooperation from all sectors to be addressed, instead of the unfair attacks.”

The public sector’s share of dental healthcare was barely 8% before the health reforms but is projected to reach 25% by the end of the present administration’s term in mid-summer.

The administration’s priority for improving and expanding public health can be seen in the budgetary allocation of 99.4 trillion rials ($2.6 billion) for the current calendar year (ends March 2018) and 64.4 trillion rials ($1.7 billion) in the bygone year.

There is still a long way to go until international standards are reached, but we can say that important reforms have taken place, and the future of healthcare is favorable.

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