Cyprus has earned a superb reputation in terms of the level and standard of services offered by its health sector. Dr. George Pamboridis, Minister of Health, is proud of the adequate infrastructure, investments and the quality of the human capital in his sector. Nevertheless, his Ministry‘s ambitious reform plans will raise the health care system to an entirely new level, bringing benefits both to the stakeholders and the economy.
European Times: What were the main developments in the health sector over the last years and which is the largest challenge ahead?
Dr. George Pamboridis: Cyprus has been trying to introduce a universal coverage system and we are currently designing a new national health system which will evolve around the patient. We have finalised the architectural structure of the reforms which has already been presented to the interested parties and stakeholders and, following a period of serious public deliberations, we are now proceeding with their implementation.
The biggest challenge is the existence of two distinct markets within the health sector: the private and the public hospitals. Even though these two markets address the needs of the same population, they operate in a segregated manner, as if divided by a wall. The uniqueness of the new system we are designing is the fact that it seeks to engage the services of both the public and the private sector, giving patients the opportunity to choose the healthcare professional who will provide the service and the insurance branch of the government which will need to cover the full cost of the service. In other words, we are creating a unified market in which foreign investment could be invited to play a role. However, there is a necessity to prepare the people working in the public hospitals for a private sector environment, and train them on how to apply the principles of accounting, invoicing and budgeting within this system.
European Times: What plans do you have regarding the development of e-Health services, pharmaceuticals and medical tourism? Do they have the potential to attract investors?
Dr. George Pamboridis: E-Health has already been implemented in other European countries. After observing the developments in countries such as Estonia, where excellent results have been achieved, in the past three months we have been working intensely on introducing it in our country as well. We need to digitalize all the medical records of our population and provide for the digitalization of all medical records from this point onwards. These processes will create potential investment opportunities in Cyprus, since there is a deficiency in terms of necessary expertise at the moment.
Pharmaceuticals, especially the generic medicines, are doing very well. We will introduce a dedicated regulator for pharmaceuticals, and we are dedicated to enhancing the collaboration between medical schools and public and private hospitals. A positive factor for a small sized country like Cyprus is the fact that, through the cross-border directive of the EU, we can take advantage of the experience and the expertise existing in other EU jurisdictions similar to ours.
We are currently trying to associate the fields of education, research and development with the pharmaceutical industry and introduce new methods and elements in this equation. One of the possible new developments could include the introduction of legislation that would allow the cultivation and use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. I believe such a bill would attract foreign investors interested in engaging in the cultivation of the plants, as well as companies working on research and development in this area.
Regarding medical tourism, we are changing our legal framework to make it easier for experts and professionals to come in the country, as well as people not holding a visa, but are in need of medical treatment. Apart from the standard medical services, we have a number of other medical tourism opportunities in auxiliary fields such as the rehabilitation field. With its mild climate and good conditions, Cyprus can offer an excellent alternative to existing rehabilitation centres in other European countries and countries in the region. We already have the proper personnel, so if we have the appropriate infrastructural investments, we could offer significantly better rehabilitation services at a much lower cost when compared to many other countries. I would urge people looking for investment opportunities in Cyprus to truly consider the rehabilitation field.
European Times: Medical research and innovation have developed tremendously in recent years, and medical schools have boosted the economy of Cyprus. Do you have initiatives to promote future growth in this sector?
Dr. George Pamboridis: One of the principal comparative advantages of Cyprus is its geographical location and its British legacy. The use of the English language is extensive, and our universities are geared to cater not only to the local population but to be globally competitive. Given the fact that we have modelled our systems on the British standards, we could act as a middle ground between the UK and countries like Iran, Iraq, Jordan and the Gulf region countries, but also Northern African countries. Furthermore, the high standards of the health service industry offer opportunities for training and expertise of professionals. We could provide training for nurses or other health professionals from the region, who could come to Cyprus and get the best out of both worlds.