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Salary changes for Saudi doctors.

Byline: Arab News

The Council of Ministers has just announced major salary changes for Saudi doctors and health workers in government hospitals. Changes were expected following the announcement to that effect a fortnight ago by Health Minister Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah at a doctors' graduation ceremony in Riyadh. The difference is that now we know what the decisions are. They amount to significantly increased salaries and allowances for Saudi doctors, bringing them up to the level of foreign physicians also working in the state sector.

The announcement should end what had become something of a crisis in the health industry. There has been resentment among Saudi doctors in government hospitals because of foreign colleagues enjoying larger salary packages. The result was a loss of incentive and numbers of Saudi doctors leaving for better paid jobs in the private sector or abroad. Quite apart from the obvious clash with the principles of Saudization, it has had damaging effects on health care delivery. Even though the percentage of Saudi doctors to foreign ones is relatively small, services in government hospitals have been affected.

The government has heard the complaint and acted. The last thing it wants is to lose doctors. On the contrary, it needs to encourage far more Saudis into the profession. Salaries are now to be standardized, and not just between Saudi and foreign doctors but also between doctors at general hospitals run by the Ministry of Health and those run by the Ministries of Defense and the Interior.

What is particularly encouraging about this decision is the time it took. The doctors' complaints began to be noticed at the beginning of February. That is when the press started to report them and also that solutions were being considered. Normally that consideration can take ages. In this case, however, only three months.

It may be a pure coincidence that Dr. Al-Rabeeah became health minister in mid-February but few will believe it. He was appointed to bring new vision and energy to the Health Ministry which, with education, continues to account for the two largest budget allocations. We are seeing precisely that. Pragmatism had overruled bureaucracy. The new salary scale will go far in putting an end to an exodus that the country can ill afford.

But even if all Saudi doctors stayed in the Kingdom, it would not resolve the shortage. Two months ago, the Health Ministry estimated that it needed to hire a further 5,000 foreign doctors to meet current demand. That will take some time and the ministry is looking largely to Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi doctors to fill the gap.

For the medium term, though, the hope is to have 29,000 Saudi doctors in practice by 2020, and 83,000 by 2040. That is no small challenge but it has to be the answer. There is a worldwide shortage of doctors which is only going to get worse. Countries such as India are increasingly going to pay sufficient salaries to keep their doctors at home. At the moment, Saudi Arabia can afford to pay more. But indefinitely?

N. Korea: Military option carries risks

North Korea conducted a nuclear test on Monday triggering worldwide condemnation and alarm. The Independent in its editorial yesterday stressed the need for talks to resolve the issue. Excerpts:

So closed is Pyongyang that it is impossible to say with any certainty what North Korea's bellicose gestures toward the outside world indicate about the internal politics of the regime. Monday's underground nuclear test has been interpreted by some as evidence of a power struggle sparked by Kim Jong Il's recent stroke. Another theory is that the regime conducted the test to cover up the embarrassment of its failed long-range missile launch last month.

Either explanation could be true; or both could be wide of the mark. However, what we do know is that whenever North Korea is in danger of slipping off the international agenda, Pyongyang tends to pull a stunt like this to reclaim the world's attention. In the absence of any other evidence to the contrary, we have to assume that North Korea is playing its traditional game of nuclear blackmail.

The question is: How should the region and the wider world respond to such provocation? Global leaders were, once again, united in condemnation of the North's behavior.

But the truth is that the international community's options are limited when it comes to dealing with North Korea. The application of military force carries too many risks. The North Korean regime is dysfunctional but, with its million-strong army, it still has the capacity to inflict horrific damage on any invading force. Moreover, the South Korean capital, Seoul, lies well within missile range of the North's artillery. A repeat of the 1950-53 war could trigger the very nuclear catastrophe the West seeks to prevent.

As for sanctions, they have been shown to be ineffective. And, of course, the drawbacks of diplomatic engagement have been plain for all to see too. The world has no other viable option but to keep plugging away with the policy of engagement through the Beijing-hosted six-party framework.

Copyright: Arab News 2009 All rights reserved.

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Date:May 27, 2009
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