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Our Private and Public Health Care Systems: One and the Same?

By mere chance, I recently visited one of our country’s distinguished private hospitals. As I walked through the building’s hallways, I couldn’t help but be impressed with its elegance, cleanliness, and impressive level of service. Everyone I interacted with – from the receptionist, through the nurses, to the physicians – was professional, courteous, and welcoming. I saw people from different nationalities and backgrounds, all of whom maintained an orderly environment. Unfortunately, a few days later, I also had a chance to visit a public hospital. As I walked down the hallway, I passed an office that housed approximately eight nurses who sat around stacked desks with no room to move or breathe. They were all facing each other in an overcrowded and stuffy room. When I got to the examination room, I noticed that the curtains separating the beds from each other were in deplorable condition. The pillows on the bed were dirty. This neglect, despite Kuwait’s huge health budget, is telling of a real problem with our health system. It is telling because Kuwaiti competencies in the field of medicine are among the highest in the world. In other words, the problem isn’t with the training or quality of our nurses, pharmacists, lab technicians, and doctors, but with how our public hospitals are managed. A hospital shouldn’t have discarded pieces of old furniture thrown around its entrance doors. Our hospitals are built on the model of international hospitals and have the latest and most sophisticated medical devices and equipment. But these resources are completely ill-managed. They are often unkempt or entirely broken. Technical malfunctions are commonplace, leaving entire departments or divisions unable to perform critical work for days or weeks. This is what distinguishes private hospitals – in which one will rarely find a broken chair, a worn pillow cover, an unclean curtain, a blanket with holes in it, or a dirty bathroom – from a public hospital, where these things are customary. It really saddens me to know that our huge health budget, our professional doctors and nurses, and the exceptional level of research and training in our universities, are still not enough to make up for the mismanagement that plagues our health care system. –Iqbal Al-Ahmed (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)