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Kazakhstan health care ushers in privatization

Emerging from seven decades of state-led management of health care, Kazakhstan has embarked on an ambitious program of medical sector privatization and modernization, with a focus on attracting foreign investors and professionals.

Under the “third wave” of economic modernization, health care has been identified as one of the key priorities with five objectives: system integration around patients’ needs; implementation of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development best practices; effective use of human and administrative resources; flexible financing of national health insurance; and transparent and accountable governance.

The five initiatives will incorporate digitalization and automation using the latest information technology and equipment, according to the country’s Ministry of Health. The government also provides tax incentives for investors, who could potentially reap long-term dividends.

As Kazakhstan and Korea have maintained close cooperation in this field, the newly reformed environment in the Central Asian country presents timely opportunities for Korean companies, doctors, pharmacists and medical devices manufacturers, said Kazakh Vice Minister of Health Alexey Tsoi in an interview.

Kazakh Vice Minister of Health Alexey Tsoi (Kazakh Embassy)
Kazakh Vice Minister of Health Alexey Tsoi (Kazakh Embassy)

“Kazakhstan wants more Korean investment in our health care industry, as we are privatizing our hospitals and encouraging trusted management schemes as well as building new facilities,” Tsoi told The Korea Herald on the sidelines of the Bio Korea 2017 International Convention in Seoul on April 14.

“Our other goals include building joint factories or partial production lines in the country to export products to the Eurasian Economic Community market of 200 million people. We also want to strengthen bilateral cooperation in continuing medical education of our doctors, nurses and health care professionals through existing and new programs.”

Tsoi, alongside Ainur Aiypkhanova, acting general director of the Republican Center for Healthcare Development, and Olzhas Abishev, acting director general of the Republic Center of E-Healthcare, participated in the fair in mid-April and met government officials and industry representatives from both countries.

The Korean side expressed the importance of sustaining long-term collaboration, Tsoi said, adding Korea’s Ministry of Health and Welfare offered to create a joint task force for projects and conduct a joint study exploring the Kazakh market.

As more than 10,000 Kazakh citizens come to Korea annually to receive medical care, replicating Korea’s health-related expertise at home remains the current government’s goal, according to the bureaucrat.

“That would save costs for Kazakh patients and also upgrade our services and infrastructure,” he said. As Kazakh people have high trust in Korea’s health care standards, he also said entering the market would guarantee benefits: institutional support, tax incentives and opportunities to treat patients from neighboring Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Tsoi encouraged investments through public-private partnerships as well as the private sector. Kazakhstan is currently modeling aspects of Korea’s national health insurance system, considered one of the more efficient and fairer systems in the world.

The country is also working to implement within two years a professional licensed system for doctors, moving away from issuing a license every five years.

“Kazakhstan and Korea have maintained strong partnerships in the health care industry through the training of Kazakh doctors by Korean counterparts, master classes, university exchanges and investment,” Tsoi said.

He mentioned a Korean investment in Al-Farabi Kazakhstan National University in Almaty, a public-private partnership with Karaganda State Medical University, Korean management of public hospitals in Astana and the construction of a private hospital and biomedical complex in Almaty by Korean companies.

Kazakhstan offers opportunities for Koreans in the management of health care institutions, across various medical facilities and in joint ventures in biomedicine, pharmaceuticals and medical devices, the bureaucrat highlighted.

According to Olzhas Raev, the Kazakhstan Ministry of Investment representative to Seoul, Astana has reformed its investment environment with a major legal and policy overhaul. Included are tax breaks on imported equipment for companies that have constructed a factory or joint assembly line in Kazakhstan, government-guaranteed purchase of products through long-term purchasing contracts and various other deregulation measures.

By Joel Lee (joel@heraldcorp.com)
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