Magharebia (Washington DC)

Morocco Pursues Healthcare Reform

Rabat — Moroccan Health Minister Houcine El Ouardi reiterated his pledge Wednesday (November 7th) to make emergency and psychiatric care a top priority in health reform during a Rabat press conference.

Healthcare is a hot topic for the public and members of parliament. Almost every week since he was appointed health minister, El Ouardi has been quizzed by MPs about several issues affecting the Moroccan healthcare sector. The minister, who is also a professor of medicine, has set out his priorities, chief among which is an improvement in mental health and accident and emergency care.

With regard to accident and emergency care, members of the public have complained about admissions and the amount of time spent on patient care.

Hayat Serghouchni, a 22-year-old student, said that much needs to be done to improve emergency care in Morocco, particularly given the shortages of nurses and doctors. She added that young people should be encouraged to enter these professions, not only to address the shortages but also to reduce unemployment.

MP Rachid Houmani said that although significant efforts have been made in the healthcare sector, attention must be paid to remote regions which suffer from big shortages of human resources, especially between Casablanca and Rabat.

The health minister has given assurances that work is under way to develop a community-based policy on hospital and pre-hospital emergency care which will involve re-organising, restructuring and providing equipment for accident and emergency departments.

The official, who has worked as an accident and emergency doctor himself, is advocating a community-based policy on hospital and pre-hospital emergency care, with plans for 80 community emergency medical facilities. Those centres will be targeted at people living in rural areas.

Specialist accident and emergency centres will treat 6 million Moroccans, up from the current 4 million. The minister has already opened 20 emergency medical units for rural obstetrics. Some 55 ambulances and six mobile hospitals have also been purchased.

On the mental health front, the government's strategy is based on increasing the accommodation capacity of psychiatric hospitals. The ministry wants to raise the number of beds available nationwide from 800 to 3,000 by the end of 2016.

Three drug rehabilitation units have also been opened this year in Tetouan, Marrakech and Nador. Next year, another three will be built in Agadir, Fes and Al-Hoceima, and a wider range of services will be made available in Tangier, Larache, Ksar El Kebir and Chefchaouen by 2016.

Professionals have highlighted the serious shortage of psychiatrists and specialist nurses. The president of the National Human Rights Council, Driss Yazami, who raised the alarm over this issue in September, said that it was a fundamental aspect of human rights and development.

The health minister has vowed to address this situation by offering more initial and on-going training for mental health professionals. The target is for 30 psychiatrists and 185 psychiatric nurses to become qualified each year. Four university departments specialising in child and adolescent psychiatry will be set up in partnership with the higher education ministry so that ten psychiatrists can be trained each year.

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