In the midst of a global health crisis, easy access to healthcare is more important than ever. Unfortunately, most people in Kazakhstan were already struggling with limited healthcare funding, high levels of chronic disease and restricted access to care prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the country’s daily new COVID-19 case numbers approached 2,000 in early July 2020, social reforms and organizations like the World Bank have worked to combat this crisis and improve healthcare in Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan is a country in Central Asia that Russia, China, the Caspian Sea and a number of former Soviet republics border. Once a member of the former Soviet Union, the world around Kazakhstan has shaped both it and its culture. The exploitation of its natural resources and the migration of surrounding peoples into the country have influenced its development and geography. A new movement to reinstate traditional Kazakh culture has resulted in various reforms in both its society and government, including reforms in healthcare.
Health and Kazakhstan’s Population
Poor diet, pollution and inadequate healthcare negatively affect the health of Kazakhstan’s population. Compared with the countries surrounding it, Kazakhstan’s infant mortality rate is one of the highest at 17.9 deaths per 1,000 live births. Additionally, Kazakhstan’s average life expectancy is at 72 years. Moreover, access to healthcare in rural areas has limitations. According to IntegratedCare4People, a website that the World Health Organization manages, the northern, rural region of Kostanay has 266 physicians per 100,000 people, while the rest of the country has, on average, 388 physicians per 100,000 people.
The Current Healthcare System
In the past, the healthcare system has failed to focus on the significance of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cancer, and blood pressure issues, focusing more on transmissible diseases. Recently, the government has expanded primary-care services (generalized care aiming to improve the life expectancy of a population) to combat the growing chronic disease mortality. The ultimate goal of Kazakhstan’s reforms is to transition to a universal healthcare system with greater cost transparency and a better quality of life. Over the years, the government has steadily increased healthcare funding and reduced the influence of private insurance.
The Shift Toward Universal Healthcare
The newest reform, the Compulsory Social and Medical Insurance (CSMI) program, which went into effect in January 2020, aims to create a single-payer healthcare system. The intent is for public insurance to pay for certain medical expenses and regulate healthcare quality. The goal of the program is to reduce out-of-pocket expenses (the cost of care that patients are responsible for), which made up 45.14% of Kazakhstan’s total health spending in 2014. However, despite steady growth in funding, healthcare financing in Kazakhstan is still very limited. Health spending makes up 3.1% of the GDP, in comparison with the global average of 9.89%, as of 2017. With an average yearly income of $26,300 per capita, Kazakhstan cannot achieve widespread public insurance without stimulating its economy.
The World Bank and Kazakhstan
In 2019, economic expansion caused wages in Kazakhstan to increase by 8.9% and poverty to decrease to 8.5%. Though the quick spread of COVID-19 in the country will likely backtrack some of these achievements, the World Bank has set up the Country Partnership Framework, a strategy for increasing economic support for Kazakhstan from 2020 until 2025. The goals of this framework are to expand economic diversity, minimize the healthcare gap between rural and urban areas, decrease carbon usage and increase energy efficiency. Part of the World Bank’s work in Kazakhstan includes offering grants to businesses to improve health and economic outcomes. The World Bank has sponsored and commercialized inventions like X-matrix (a wound dressing for burns) and invested in agricultural technology to boost Kazakhstan’s economy.
Healthcare in Kazakhstan is majorly dependent on its economy. While government funding for healthcare is far behind similar countries, the steady growth of business and investment will allow it to slowly increase. The effects of COVID-19 in Kazakhstan are meeting with productive and long-term funding from organizations like the World Bank. With steady growth and progress, Kazakhstan’s healthcare system and overall health should be able to improve over time.
– Ann Marie Vanderveen