How would you characterize the state of the healthcare sector in the Kurdistan Region?
The healthcare sector has faced various obstacles in the past years because of the limited budgets of hospitals, and a lack of qualified personnel in vital positions such as healthcare administration, healthcare engineering, and pharmaceutical quality control. However, the MOH has aggressively addressed these challenges, and as a result we are seeing significant progress. To improve both the capacity and diversity of the health system, the Ministry is building new general and specialized hospitals in the Region. To address shortages in the sector’s human capital, the Ministry is increasing the number of doctors and health staff. Additionally, we have strengthened quality control of medicines in huge ways. We are adopting a semi-private system at public hospitals, which allows private sector doctors to perform surgeries in public general hospitals. Finally, we are expanding the reach of polyclinic services in public sector general health centers, and extending their opening hours. As a result, the healthcare sector is developing, despite the presence of some challenges that stemmed from the past.

What were your Ministry’s key strategic objectives for 2013 and 2014?
The Health Ministry’s key initiatives for 2013 included: strengthening quality control of drug and food safety; building of seven general and specialized hospitals and 12 primary health centers (PHCs) across the Region; strengthening preventive and therapeutic measures to fight cancer and chronic diseases, as well as improving mental health treatment, and controlling communicable diseases; developing and deploying an electronic health information system; increasing and improving capacity of doctors and other health staff; and preparing healthcare reform plans, in collaboration with the WHO and RAND Corporation.

2014 will also see increased initiatives for encouraging and developing public-private partnerships, increased encouragement of widespread health insurance, and extending family healthcare.

Many of these initiatives are ongoing, and will continue through 2014. Our plan therefore includes additional progress on food and drug control, increasing the number of hospitals (there are currently 10 new hospitals under construction), and further implementing electronic health information systems. 2014 will also see increased initiatives for encouraging and developing public-private partnerships, increased encouragement of widespread health insurance, and extending family healthcare. To establish a health insurance system, we have proposed legislation in the Kurdistan Parliament to develop a legal framework for insurance to operate. We are also working with an American consultancy to further develop an effective overall structure for a health insurance system in the Region. We hope to have an operational health insurance system running in the Region by early-mid 2014.

What is being done to address the shortage of well-trained nurses in the Kurdistan Region?
The lack of well-trained nurses presents challenges to the Region’s health system. However, the MOH is working hard to increase nursing capacities and improve professional development in nursing. We do this through a series of initiatives to increase opportunities for educational and professional development. For example, the Ministry of Higher Education has established a scholarship program to attract people to university nursing programs. The MOH strongly encourages students to take advantage of this program. Additionally, the MOH has conducted 144 training courses in the nursing field, attended by about 5,000 nurses and paramedics. We are also planning to contract with nurse training institutes abroad to provide advanced training to our nurses.

What role do you think foreign expertise can play in improving the overall performance of the healthcare sector of the Kurdistan Region?
Foreign expertise can play a crucial role in hospital management, health system reform, development of a health insurance system, organizing public-private partnerships, and development and implementation of the electronic healthcare information system. In many of these fields, the MOH itself contracts with foreign experts, organizations, and companies to bring expertise and experience into improving the system.