Dinara Saginbaeva, Minister of Health, discusses recent major developments in Kyrgyzstan’s healthcare sector and outlines the ministry’s ambitious goals.
European Times: What are some of the changes that have occurred in Kyrgyzstan’s healthcare system since the Soviet years?
Dinara Saginbaeva: Any country’s healthcare system needs a lot of financial support from the government, so when the Soviet Union collapsed, there was no money to maintain healthcare in Kyrgyzstan at the previous level. A comprehensive reform of the healthcare sector began in 1996 with the support of international funding institutions, such as the KfW, WB, WHO, etc. The focus shifted towards primary healthcare, which now receives around 40% of the total healthcare budget compared to around 10% in the Soviet years. The number of hospital beds has been reduced and the number of medical institutions has been cut in half to achieve greater efficiency. The government has also introduced a new focus on family medicine as well as mandatory health insurance and, in 2001, a State-Guaranteed Benefit Program.
Today, 76% of the population of Kyrgyzstan is insured. There is free care for pregnant women, children under the age of five and for the elderly over the age of 70. Financing healthcare has also changed as a result of the reforms, and the new system has proved to be very successful. Citizens contribute to the healthcare budget by making small direct co-payments, for example when they are treated in hospitals, and financing is based on outcomes. Despite the fact that the healthcare sector in Kyrgyzstan is still supported by the government, many features of the free-market economy have been implemented.
European Times: Are additional reforms planned?
Dinara Saginbaeva: For the past 15 years we have been turning the healthcare system around, so the major work has been done. However, a reform process never ends. What was introduced in 1996 is not sufficient for today, so reforms will continue. A current priority is to further strengthen our outpatient care and to make our citizens more aware of what ambulatory or outpatient care means and what its advantages are. We also want to develop our family-health systems even more, as well as continue to upgrade the quality of our medical-sanitary care. The Ministry of Health will do everything in its power to ensure high-quality healthcare services for every single citizen of Kyrgyzstan.
European Times: What are some major challenges the Ministry of Health is facing?
Dinara Saginbaeva: Lack of sufficient financing is the biggest challenge. We still have a deficit of 37% in the State-Guaranteed Benefit Program. Thanks to the support of donors, we have been able to implement a health-reforming program ‘Manas Taalimi’ and are now at the stage of implementing the new ‘Den Sooluk’ Program. Our donors have supported educational programmes and equipment as well as financial support. But, we still need more financing, and we hope that the new government initiative to support public-private partnerships will attract private investment to the healthcare sector. We need expensive new medical equipment, new medical buildings and hospitals, and more. We have several projects we are ready to introduce. These are on organising a dialysis centre, centralising laboratory for health facilities, catering, computer tomography, angiography outsourcing and development of the voluntary health-insurance system.
European Times: What kind of investors are you looking for?
Dinara Saginbaeva: One of our goals is to attract investors in activities that are not directly part of the healthcare sector but are related, for example to food services and cleaning for hospitals and clinics. We would also like to build new hospitals and new facilities for medical diagnosis, and we need financial support of around €7.51 million to complete a rehabilitation centre near Issyk-Kul lake. In addition, we aim to build a cultural and sports centre, which is budgeted at €15.4 million, and a new neurology centre, for which we need around €30.9 million. Investors can contact the Ministry of Health directly to find out more about these and other investment possibilities. My deputy ministers and I are more than happy to work with potential investors.
European Times: What is your message to international investors concerning investing in Kyrgyzstan?
Dinara Saginbaeva: I would like investors to know that Kyrgyzstan is definitely changing for the better and that much progress has already been made in improving our healthcare system, but we still need support in reaching our goals. The events in our country in 2005 and 2010 were tragic, but also demonstrated that our people want to be free. They want democracy and a free-market economy. Investors should not be afraid to come here. They will be very welcome, because we are aware that we need their know-how and technologies as well as their financial support. The healthcare sector offers almost limitless possibilities and is Kyrgyzstan’s most attractive sector to invest in today.