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Bahrain: A History of the Healthcare System

Although Bahrain has a universal health care system dating back to 1960, the first healthcare clinic in Kingdom was opened by missionary Reverend Samuel Zwemer and his wife Amy Wilkes, a missionary nurse, in the 1890’s.

They first opened a small dispensary which later became a one-room clinic just downstairs their home in Manama Souq. They diagnosed illnesses, dispensed medication, extracted teeth, and performed minor surgeries.

As the number of people needing medical attention grew, they realized that their basic skills in surgery and nursing were not enough, leading Zwemer to start requesting for physicians through the Reformed Church in the US. Subsequently, two doctors landed in Bahrain and built what we today know as the American Mission Hospital (AMH).

When the facility first open in 1903, it was named Mason Memorial Hospital. It began attracting patients from all over the Gulf, like Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Qatar. It was the first, if not only healthcare facility in Bahrain until formal government facilities opened in the 1940s.

In 1927, Marion Thoms Memorial Hospital for Women and Children was opened, providing care for women, soon-to-be mothers, and their children. This was where Fatima Al Zayani, Bahrain’s first nurse, gained exposure to patient care. Today, the building houses AMH’s obstetrics and gynecology clinic and the Zwemer clinic.

Bahrain’s first public hospital

The first public hospital and first tertiary hospital in Bahrain is the Salmaniya Medical Complex (SMC).

Established in 1957, SMC was opened with a total capacity of 50 beds. Today, it has a total capacity of approximately 1,200 beds and is the largest tertiary hospital in the Kingdom. It provides secondary, tertiary, and emergency medical services and specialized outpatient clinics. The complex holds the country’s main morgue.

Bahrain’s first psychiatric hospital

Opened in 1932, the Psychiatric Hospital is the only public psychiatric hospital in Bahrain to date. It came as British advisor to Bahrain’s hakim, Charles Belgrave, proposed the establishment of an asylum for the safekeeping of locals in need of psychiatric care.

Today, the Psychiatric Hospital located in SMC handles an average of 1,195 k inpatient admissions and 20,000 outpatients per year. Two specialised outpatient clinics were established for anxiety and intellectual disabilities.  Psychiatric services have also been incorporated within the primary care sector, allowing family physicians to prescribe psychiatric medications – the first such initiative in the Arab world.

Bahrain Defence Force Hospital – Royal Medical Services

One of the 3 major hospitals, the Bahrain Defence Force – Royal Medical Services (BDF-RMS), is the only hospital providing free health care exclusively for non-civilians in the Kingdom. It commenced as a small clinic in 1968 and grew into a 120-bed hospital in 1979.

Today, BDF-RMS has expanded and become the second largest hospital in Bahrain with 481 beds. Its three major components consist of the Military Hospital, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al-Khalifa Cardiac Center and the Field Military Battalion.

The Hospital’s health system offers the region’s largest network of primary care physicians, outpatient centre and hospital. It also includes a network of specialty care physicians, skilled nursing, elder health, behavioural health, rehabilitation and home care services, managed care and insurance programmes and occupational health and wellness.

Bahrain Ministry of Health

The Ministry of Health is responsible for the preventive and curative health services in the Kingdom through a network of primary, secondary, and tertiary health care facilities. The technical and financial responsibility of this lies mainly with the Ministry, in coordination with other Ministries, the private sector, and community.

In partnership with the stakeholders, the Ministry leads the health system to ensure high-quality services. It plays a significant role in policy making and promoting health. It ensures the efficient and effective use of all resources for a high-standard evidence-based care for all.

National Health Regulatory Authority

In 2010, the National Health Regulatory Authority (NHRA) was established with a mission to regulate the provision of healthcare in the Kingdom and ensure efficiency, appropriateness, continuity, and safety in delivering health services in the public and private sectors.

NHRA is responsible for regulatory procedures related to licensing healthcare facilities such as hospitals, clinics, medical centres, and pharmaceutical centres. It is responsible for the licensing of health care professionals.

NHRA is responsible for the registration and pricing of medicine, granting approvals for clinical trials, investigating professional misconduct claims, and conducting disciplinary hearings for health professionals in Bahrain.


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