Kuwait defends ban on expats' morning visits to hospital
Kuwait has defended a controversial plan to bar foreigners from attending public hospitals in the mornings, saying it was aimed at resolving the problem of "overcrowding" at health facilities.
Since Sunday the health ministry in the oil-rich Gulf state began implementing the measure, described by activists as racist, at the public hospital in Jahra, west of Kuwait City, on an experimental basis for six months.
If successful, it will be extended to other public hospitals in line with a decision issued last month by Health Minister Mohammad al-Haifi, a well-known surgeon.
Under the measure, foreign residents are able to receive treatment at the outpatient clinics in the evenings only.
The measure "is intended to ease overcrowding at clinics" where the number of patients has been increasing rapidly, the health ministry said.
It cited the health minister as stressing that the ministry will continue to provide "the best health care for citizens and expatriates", adding that hospitals will provide all other medical services and emergencies to all citizens and residents at all times.
The minister added that a new 1,100-bed hospital now under construction will soon be completed to solve the overcrowding problem.
"Kuwait is a multicultural society that brings people from all over the world and provides them with the best health care," said Haifi.
The controversial decision was taken following complaints in parliament that Kuwaiti patients have endured long waits at public health facilities because of the large number of expatriates.
Kuwait is home to 2.6 million foreigners, mostly from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Egypt and Syria, and 1.2 million native Kuwaitis.
Kuwait provides free medical services to citizens but expatriates must pay an annual fee of US$175 each.