1 October 2012

Morocco: Health Sector Under Fire

Rabat — Faced with searing criticism, Moroccan officials vow to bring healthcare costs down by the end of the year.

Morocco's healthcare system is in need of a revamp, some officials say.

"No evolution can take place in the health domain without resolving the socio-economic problems of sector employees, who live in very difficult conditions," Health Minister Houcine El Ouardi said on September 20th.

According to the minister, "Morocco is one of 57 countries suffering from a glaring shortage of medically trained human resources".

"We have six doctors for every 10,000 head of population, whereas in Algeria they have 12.9 and in Belgium they have 35," El Ouardi said.

He acknowledged that the sector suffers from a litany of problems, including lack of equipment and human resources, as well as poor training and security.

The failings, El Ouardi said, will be overcome through a policy of local management and regionalisation, improved handling of chronic conditions and better governance.

Deputy Mohamed Laassel agreed that some of the healthcare problems can be resolved through improved governance and management. He mentioned that some public sector doctors work in the private sector, which impacts care provision in public hospitals.

The scourge of corruption is another problem invoked by members of the public.

Rahma Cheftili, a housewife, complained that it is almost impossible to access treatment in a public hospital without resorting to bribes. "The nurses ignore patients until someone gives them a backhander. When a woman gives birth, she has to give the nurse at least two hundred dirhams, even though it shouldn't cost you to have a baby in a state maternity ward," she said indignantly.

Meanwhile, MP Rahma Tritah said that the necessary measures must be introduced to fight corruption in public health services, particularly in rural areas. Tackling corruption requires political will, she said.

According to the health minister, the top priorities include the need to restore public confidence in state healthcare and hospitals. He insisted, however, that people should not put all doctors in the same boat, because the majority of them are honest and work hard to serve the public.

"We have introduced measures to make the public attending hospitals aware of their duties and their rights, to prevent them falling victim to certain unhealthy practices," El Ouardi said. "The ministry is determined to improve governance. A number of measures have therefore been introduced such as the booking of appointments by telephone and online, the introduction of social support units, and a system for following up complaints."

Negotiations are under way with retail pharmacists and the pharmaceutical industry to lower the cost of medicines. The minister said that the first price reductions are expected this December.

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