Indonesia to woo specialists and high-end medical know-how

Aim to boost quality of health care.

INDONESIA is to liberalise its medical sector in 2003, throwing open its doors to attract specialists and high-end medical technology from countries such as Singapore, Australia and the US.

The decision, disclosed to The Straits Times yesterday, is part of a move by the authorities here to draw investments and improve health-care facilities and standards across the country.

Indonesian Medical Association Chairman Dr Asrul Azwar said that in five years’ time, hospitals, clinics and laboratories in Indonesia could be wholly owned by foreign investors.

“We want to raise the quality of health care in Indonesia. That is our primary aim,” he said in an interview.

With the implementation of the Asean Free Trade Area (Afta) in 2003, he said it would be difficult to restrict “technology transfer” and the flow of workers from other countries.

“The health industry is one area that will be affected. It will not be productive to block off whatever expertise that foreigners can offer,” he said.

He pointed to the setting up of Gleneagles Hospital in Indonesia as an example of what the Indonesian government and private sector were hoping to achieve from greater foreign investments.

Gleneagles Hospital is operated by Singapore-listed Parkway Holdings.

Parkway announced last year that it had invested S$8.7 million for a 44 per cent stake in a new joint-venture firm to own and operate the Budi Mulia Hospital in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city.

It planned to develop Budi Mulia into a 200-bed private hospital providing a wide range of medical services.

Parkway said the acquisition would make it one of the first foreign health-care companies to participate in the purchase of an existing hospital in the country.

Said Dr Azwar: “Gleneagles is providing sophisticated health-care facilities in Indonesia and we want to see more such hospitals throughout the country.”

The aim now was to attract foreign investments “of the same level” in Medan, Surabaya and Jakarta.

He said this was in line with the broader objective to let the private sector “dominate” the health-care industry.

“The government won’t be able to build the number of hospitals this country needs,” he said, adding that, besides raising health-care standards, the move would also provide jobs for Indonesians.

On the proposal to allow foreign doctors to practise in Indonesia, he said the aim was to attract more specialists, in particular interns and those able to perform heart transplants.

“There are more than enough doctors in this country. But what we do need are those with certain skills and expertise which local doctors can learn from,” he said.

He said that the government would prepare regulations to make sure that only qualified medical doctors from other countries could work in Indonesia. Among other things, they would have to pass an examination set by the Health Ministry.

Regulations issued in 1980 currently prohibit Indonesian medical institutions from using foreign personnel – general practitiners, specialists, dentists, pharmacists and nurses – without the ministry’s approval.

Dr Azwar said this decree would be scrapped once the government approved the plan to allow foreign doctors to practise in the country.

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