BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The rising cost of medication and treatment, growing number of patients, and prevalence of non-communicable disease will lead to an expanding health budget in the years to come, the health minister said Tuesday. 

Speaking at the Legislative Council, Dato Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar proposed a health budget of $418 million for the 2023/24 fiscal year, an increase of 8.3% from the previous year’s allocation.

The minister said despite the government’s best efforts, chronic health issues such as diabetes, cancers and heart disease are on the rise.

Citing examples, the minister said the number of people needing kidney replacement therapy has increased from 698 to 913 between 2015-2021.

Even with the establishment of a cancer centre in Brunei, treatment for second-stage breast cancer is approximately $100,000 per patient, whereas treating early-stage breast cancer costs an average of $20,000 per patient.

This suggests that there could be savings of approximately $5 million per year if patients are diagnosed earlier, Dato Isham said.

The sultanate is also facing an ageing population, with 10% of the population aged 60 and above. This figure is expected to increase to 28% by 2050.

Minister of Health Dato Dr Hj Md Isham speaks during a meeting of the Legislative Council on March 22, 2023. Photo: Information Department

MoH has started genomic screening methods for certain diseases, and in the future, the latest treatments using genomic banking may also be explored, the minister said.

“Early detection and treatment of these diseases would improve survival rates, maintain quality of life, and enable individuals to continue contributing to the country’s economic development,” he added.

Dato Isham said the ministry is also collaborating with a government-linked company to purchase medicines for MoH and all health agencies in Brunei, helping to regulate the price of medicines in the local market.

Brunei provides free universal healthcare for all citizens and permanent residents.

New block at RIPAS

The health ministry has also announced plans to expedite the implementation of two major projects in the next year. 

The first is the construction of a new block at RIPAS Hospital that will expand capacity by 500 beds. The new building will provide more space for specialty services and enhance the hospital’s readiness to respond to pandemics and other major medical crises, said Dato Dr Hj Md Isham.

In the future, the new building can house Centres of Excellence in select medical fields, he added. 

The second project is to upgrade BruHIMS, the government’s electronic patient record system, to include new features such as an Intelligent Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system, an Intelligent Care Plan and Clinical Pathway Recommendation system. 

“These enhancements will allow the system to evaluate health risks, anticipate diagnoses and develop customised care plan, as well as collect structured data to enhance data quality,” the minister said.

Introduced back in 2012, the system currently keeps around 750,000 medical records and has 6,000 active users.

Rise in healthcare professionals

MoH has reported an increase in the number of healthcare professionals in the past year, registering 806 doctors and dentists (up 9%), 2,557 nurses (up 1.5%), and 416 allied healthcare professionals (up 26%).

Dato Isham said the rise in medical professionals has led to the development of specialised services such as sports medicine, palliative care, infectious diseases treatment and organ transplant services.

While the growth is encouraging, the minister said the number remains insufficient to meet the needs of the country, especially with the development of specialised services in hospitals and clinics. 

To address the shortage, he said MoH is collaborating with private medical institutions and academia to accelerate training and hiring of healthcare professionals.