Indonesia is preparing to allow foreign medical professionals to live and practice in the country.
According to observers, the move will improve quality and access to healthcare in the world’s fourth most populous country of 280 million people.
President Joko Widodo told The Straits Times over lunch on 15th March that the provisions would be outlined in a new law, with the bill currently being debated in parliament.
“This is very important to improve (health) services,” Jokowi said at the Presidential Palace.
Jokowi also questioned the details of the proposed law, saying he wanted to submit it to the House of Representatives and did not want to divulge details before the House of Representatives approved the new health bill.
A member of parliament debating the so-called health omnibus bill told The Straits Times that if all goes well, the bill could be passed into law by the end of April.
“The aim of bringing in foreign specialists is to limit the flow of middle-class and wealthy Indonesians going abroad for treatment,” said the member who did not want to be named.
They said expatriate doctors would be conditionally bound to work only in hospitals owned by foreign investors and would be required to transfer knowledge to local colleagues.
On the possibility of nationalist voices criticising the move to allow foreign doctors to practice in Indonesia, he said: “In 1998, when Indonesia opened up its banking sector, there were fears that foreign bankers would dominate the workforce in the sector. We all saw that it didn’t happen.
“Logically, the hospital does not employ all foreign doctors and operates inefficiently here. They will probably bring three to five,” they added.
In the proposed Health Omnibus Bill, it is stated that foreign medical personnel will be able to obtain work permits with a validity period of three years, which can be extended for just one more year.
Furthermore, foreign medical personnel who wish to work in Indonesia must go through an adaptation programme at Indonesian health facilities before starting professional work. Exceptions are given to those who have completed five years of overseas training.
Singapore-based public health expert Dr. Jeremy Lim called Indonesia’s plan a game changer, noting that it would open up the supply side of the health equation from a qualitative and quantitative perspective.
“Indonesia has huge ‘demand side’ needs which are currently being partially met by Indonesians seeking care overseas,” said Dr Lim, director of the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.
Wealthy Indonesians often travel to Singapore, Malaysia, the US, and Europe for medical services.