Health in all policies

Health in all policies

The structure and shape of industry in Kuwait is changing. As the country shifts to a technology-intensive market, one key objective is improving the safety, health and well-being of its workers

As in many countries around the world, the COVID-19 outbreak in Kuwait has been a significant obstacle, not only in the health sector but also in social and economic life this year. The COVID-19 outbreak has brought a sensational awareness of how health issues profoundly affect society as a whole.

Kuwait’s health system is based on its National Health Service, which guarantees universal health coverage and supplements medical services through the private health sector. Based on the number of hospital beds, the public health sector accounts for about 83% of health care, and private sector and oil companies account for the remaining 17%. Kuwait has 97 primary health centres and public hospitals spread across the country, ensuring full universal health coverage for its citizens. As a result, this well-established health system has fully functioned in times of pandemic, such as COVID-19. By late August, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 per million people was about 19,000, but the average fatality rate of COVID-19 per month remained at 0.5%.

However, in responding to the current COVID-19 pandemic, three major factors have complemented Kuwait’s health and social system.

First, there is a need to supplement health, technical, social and institutional response systems that can effectively block the transmission of viral diseases such as COVID-19.

Second, Kuwait has 8,625 hospital beds, which is very low at 1.9 per 1,000 people. Therefore, it is challenging to accommodate existing patients as well as COVID-19 patients during a pandemic such as this one. In particular, facilities such as intensive care units need to be supplemented. Given the recent accumulation of large numbers of confirmed cases of COVID-19, which increased the COVID-19 fatality rate to 1% in July, there is an urgent need to supplement these facilities.

Third, there is a shortage of overall healthcare personnel and public health experts. The medical workforce supply system that trains doctors needs to shift to one that can cultivate a diverse health workforce that can smoothly complement the entire healthcare system.

Opportunity for innovation

On the one hand, the COVID-19 outbreak has caused many social shocks, but, on the other hand, it has given Kuwait an opportunity to promote digital innovation. Now in Kuwait, digital innovation is spreading not only to the public domain but also to private enterprises and services. The COVID-19 pandemic has become an opportunity to catalyse innovation in the fourth industrial revolution beyond the simplicity of the tertiary industry in all areas of health, education, society and economy.

In Kuwait, the five-phase plan to normalise economic activity was launched by the end of May. As of the end of August, the fourth step is being implemented. As each phase progresses, the ratio of workers in each workplace is gradually increased so that it can finally reach the 100% level. By reducing face-to-face contact between workers as much as possible, industry is in the process of normalising enterprise while minimising the spread of COVID-19. Workers’ safety is protected as much as possible through social distancing in the workplace, wearing masks and hand sanitisation, including
sanitary gloves.

The working environment and conditions for Kuwait’s workers are some of the critical factors that determine health. In the case of industries that work outdoors, such as the construction industry, dry and hot climate conditions are fatal risk factors. And working in a confined indoor space for a long time, such as in the services industry, is another health risk factor. There is an urgent need to promote workplace health.

Kuwait is currently designing a comprehensive set of healthy workplace programmes. They are aimed at the collaboration between workers and managers to use a continual improvement process to protect and promote the health, safety and well-being of all workers and the sustainability of the workplace.

By sector, in Kuwait 2% of employees are active in agriculture, 24% in industry and 74% in the services sector. And most businesses are small, with fewer than 50 employees. Therefore, it is not easy to realise a workplace health promotion project within the workplace itself. We are considering establishing a specialised project such as the Occupational Safety and Health Support Group, which is associated with the local community, to create a professional support system to promote workers’ safety and health. This project not only improves the health competence of workers through prevention and health investment but also improves the well-being and health of workers by simultaneously providing social services such as practical health services and job counselling. Also, measures to prevent and cope with safety and industrial accidents are tightly institutionalised, and measures are being taken to lower the industrial accident rate in a short period
of time.

In the long run, we are strategically changing the structure and shape of Kuwait’s industry. In particular, Kuwait is making quite a change from a labour-intensive industrial structure to a technology-intensive sector through VISION 2035. By converting the labour-intensive industry, which many foreign workers are in charge of, to a technology-intensive structure, we can try to solve problems of safety, including industrial accidents, and to improve the health and well-being of workers.