Qatar Special Needs Guide: Healthcare
Special educational needs and disabilities in an able-bodied environment can make everyday tasks complicated. Much has been done over the years to ease the life of families with children with special needs and dedicated research, facilities and care services available to families living with disabilities are on the rise in Qatar. Finding the services your child may need can be difficult to navigate if you’re not familiar with the medical system in Qatar.
We have put together a two-part guide to illustrate the services available in Doha for people with special needs. This part focuses on healthcare.
Qatar’s main public healthcare provider, Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC), encompasses a number of inpatient and outpatient services and facilities specifically designed for people with special needs.
HMC services are free of charge for Qatari nationals and partially free for Doha residents holding a Hamad health card. Some patients, including those with permanent disabilities, are entitled to exemption cards, which reduce or annul fees under certain conditions.
To access HMC services and enquire on whether you may be entitled to an exemption card, you must start with Qatar's Primary Healthcare Corporation. The Primary Healthcare Corporation, also publicly owned, comprises of 21 centres scattered around Qatar. If you are new to Doha, the first thing to do is to go to the centre closest to you and request a health card, which allows you to access services at the public healthcare facilities or hospitals in Qatar.
Even if you have private health insurance, requesting a health card is paramount, as private hospitals and clinics in Doha are only equipped to deal with certain conditions and diseases and will refer their patients to HMC or Sidra Medical and Research Centre, Qatar’s other public healthcare provider, if unable to care for them.
Hamad Medical Corporation
Hamad provides a wide array of services to people with disabilities and special needs. "From paediatrics to geriatrics, we adopt an integrated approach to healthcare to the extent possible," explained Fatima Mustafa, assistant director of the department of children's rehabilitation at HMC. There are, however, some services specifically dedicated to people with special needs that are worth mentioning.
Al Wakra Hospital’s Dental Clinic for people with special needs
The clinic opened its door to the public in late 2015. It caters to both adults and children and has specially designed facilities such as a wider than usual door to allow access for patients with mobility issues, and a special lift that enables treatment of patients on their wheelchairs.
“The clinic also allows those unable to clean their teeth independently the chance of having a dental cleaning and treatment procedure, under general anaesthesia every six months," said Dr. Ohoud Al Kuwari, a dentist at Al Wakra Hospital, in an HMC press release.
Patients do not need a referral from their primary health care centre or any other doctor to access the services provided by Al Wakra Hospital’s Dental Clinic for people with special needs.
Contact: +974 4011-4422
Hours: Sunday to Thursday 07:00–15:00 (general enquiries)
The Child Development Centre at Rumailah Hospital
The Child Development Centre (CDC) at Rumailah Hospital was established in 2012 as a comprehensive rehabilitation unit for children with mild to moderate disabilities from birth to 14 years of age.
“Our aim is to bring all services that families with special needs may require under one roof," said Mustafa. "Parents don't need to bring their child to various specialists in different places. They come here, and a team of specialists elaborates an all-encompassing individual plan of action with families based on each child's individual needs."
The CDC encompasses a number of services dedicated to children with special needs as well as their families, including assessment and diagnosis, occupational therapy, speech therapy, physiotherapy, and orthotics and prosthetics.
Within the CDC, the early intervention programme provides early identification and intervention services for infants and toddlers who have or are at risk for developmental delays or disabilities. “The programme was established with the mission of providing high-quality early intervention services that are child focused, family focused and based on the integration of clinical practice with current research evidence,” explained Shamim Kabeer, programme coordinator of the early intervention programme.
The CDC’s Pre-Integration Program prepares children with special needs between the age of three and six to go to school.
The CDC also provides psychology services with a specialised clinic for children with behavioural or mental health conditions. Psychology sessions are usually one-to-one with children or their parents, but group sessions are also available, for example, for parents who may want to share experiences.
Seating and positioning services for children with mobility issues, a dietitian clinic for those with dietary problems, as well as feeding and swallowing services for children with difficulties eating and swallowing are also available.
The CDC also runs a distinct autism programme. "Children with autism have very unique needs," said Mustafa. "In addition, autism is still under study: a variety of models of care have been suggested but, unlike other disabilities, there is no universally recognised approach yet. Autism, therefore, needs to be treated differently."
To access the Child Development Centre’s programmes, children must have a referral from a physician either within Hamad Medical Corporation or another public or private healthcare provider in Qatar or from a public school.
Contact: +974 4439-3333
Nesma'ak (HMC Customer Service Center): 16060
Hours: Sunday to Thursday 07:00–22:00, Friday 14:00–22:00, Saturday 10:00–18:00
Sidra Medical and Research Centre
Sidra is another key public healthcare provider in Qatar; however, it only caters to women and children. Sidra's facilities soft opened in May 2016. At present, only a limited number of clinics at Sidra are fully operational. More services, including specific support for women who suffer from depression during pregnancy or postpartum, are expected to start operating over the coming months.
Sidra's services are free of charge for Qatari nationals. Residents with an HMC health card can access many of Sidra's services if, according to Sidra's website, those services are not provided elsewhere, and the patient does not have other insurance coverage or has exhausted their coverage.
Division of Child and Adolescent Mental Health, Department of Psychiatry
Sidra’s children psychiatry clinic opened in May 2016 and provides assessments, diagnosis, one-on-one as well as family therapy and recommendations for specific social or school support for children with special needs.
To access the services provided by the children psychiatry clinic, patients need a referral from a physician in Qatar—either from a public or private healthcare provider—or from a school. "Most of the referrals we receive are from schools," said Dr. Muhammad Waqar Azeem, who heads Sidra's department of psychiatry and chairs the Ministry of Public Health's national autism working group. "Any school counsellor, from both private and public schools in Qatar, can make direct referrals to our child psychiatry clinic," he said.
Division of Developmental Pediatrics
Sidra Medical and Research Centre also has a developmental paediatric division for children with special needs, from birth until 14 years of age. "We do accept children up to 18 years old if they have learning difficulties or intellectual disabilities," specified Dr. Fatima Janjua, acting division chief of the division of developmental paediatrics.
"We currently accept newborns after discharge," said Dr. Janjua, "however, it is worth noting that Sidra will open a specialist high-risk infant follow-up clinic in January 2017 managed by paediatric neonatologists.”
Sidra's division of developmental paediatrics opened in June 2016 and is equipped to treat moderate to severe forms of developmental conditions.
As is the case for any clinic at Sidra, patients need a referral to access the services provided by the division of developmental paediatrics. Referrals are accepted from physicians in both private and public healthcare, as well as private and public schools.
Contact: +974 4003-3333
Hours: Sunday to Thursday 07:00–15:00
Disability parking stickers
Doha residents with disabilities may be entitled to a disability parking sticker, which allows its owners to use accessible parking spaces around Doha. To obtain a sticker, residents need to contact their general practitioner, who will compile and provide them with a form, which needs to be submitted to the Qatar traffic department.
Hamad Medical Corporation offers a home healthcare team, which works on a small scale with patients with severe disabilities who need primary nursing care. A therapy team instructs parents as to how they can meet their child's basic needs—for example, feeding them or putting them in bed—however, full-scale home-based assistance is not available at the time of writing.
Hearing and visual impairment
Al Noor Institute for the Blind (+974 6648-1497) and Qatar Institute for Speech and Hearing (qish.info) specifically cater to adults and children with hearing and visual impairments. They both work closely with Hamad Medical Corporation and Sidra Medical and Research Center.
Qatar’s National Autism Plan
The Ministry of Public Health's National Autism Working Group was tasked with creating a national autism plan, which, at the time of writing, is waiting for sign off from the Minister of Public Health. The plan, which will be implemented over five years, rests on six pillars: awareness in the general public, early screening and detection of autism, timely diagnosis, intervention, role of schools in providing services to children with autism and transition to adulthood.