(MENAFN - Arab News) General Electric Healthcare's investment in Saudi Arabia runs into billions of riyals. In the course of its investment for expanding the scope of its business, the company has also been focusing on education and training. "In the last few years, we trained more than 1,300 people as part of the Ministry of Health's intensive technical training in which we spent a lot of money and efforts," Karim Karti, president & CEO of GE Healthcare EAGM, told Arab News in an exclusive interview.
Q. General Electric Healthcare's investment in the Kingdom was worth SR5.7 billion in 2010. What level of Saudization and creation of job opportunities for both male and female Saudis does GE contribute?
A. This is one point that is very dear to our heart. I personally feel that I should be very involved in and very passionate about the issues. We at GE want our entire organization to feel that these are among our priorities. I believe that we made a great progress in Saudi Arabia, especially under the leadership of our General Manager Majed Kaddomi. In health care, we have over 250 Saudis hired in the past two-three years, and we are growing as we are at the premium level in Nitaqat, and looking forward to double or triple (our Saudi employment) in the coming five years. We are also looking at potentially some major localization opportunities, which could bring in a larger number of people. It is not only for jobs but also quality jobs with high value-added services that require new skills for Saudis. The Saudi females hired also tripled in the past two to three years.
Q. GE Healthcare has its presence in the Kingdom for the last 25 years. Why was Saudization stepped up in the last few years? Do you have Saudis in prominent positions?
A. We recently hired a high profile woman who is well known in industry and who is involved in projects that are global in nature. We also have Saudis in top positions at GE Healthcare. Some of our most prominent sales executives are Saudis. I would say in the past two to three years we continued our focus on Saudization, but that does not mean it was not done before. Medical technology is advancing rapidly and it will be to the advantage of Saudis if its manufacturing is introduced in the Kingdom.
This can be a breakthrough move in the interest of Saudis. It's in this context that we are more aggressive in continuing with our Saudization program and creation of jobs. This is one of our major thrusts here, as we believe the more local we are, the stronger we will be in business as a partner. We, therefore, are contributing to the creation of the next generation of leaders of both genders in the Kingdom. We strongly believe that this is the only way for a global company to compete locally. Furthermore, it was only three years ago that the EAGM region (Eastern & Africa Growth Market) was created, which I am leading from Istanbul. In GE we have a big focus on globalization, and our region is focused on emerging markets and because of that localization is one of our major initiatives.
Q. Do you put forward your recommendations to the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Labor, for example, in regards to the demands of the job opportunities in this field? What is the role of GE Healthcare in training Saudis as part of your initiatives for Saudization and job opportunities?
A. We are a humble company. We do not tell people in positions how to do their job. But we try to find out what is the best way we can be a source of help. Toward this direction, we are doing a lot of things on education. In the last few years, we trained more than 1,300 people as part of the Ministry of Health's intensive technical training in which we spent a lot of money and efforts. As part of extending our help, we are also looking at building training centers in the Kingdom - a major initiative for training several thousand Saudis a year. Whether the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Health, we see huge potential in partnering with them in the interest of Saudis. We participated in career fairs at major universities to scout talent for training. We have also reached out through the Ministry of Higher Education to find potential employers by attending career fairs in United States and the UK. Last year, we recruited 20 talented students who are undergoing training and we are targeting another 35 this year.
Q. What is Healthymagination and how does it serve the health care sector?
A. Healthymagination is an initiative we launched two years ago, which is aimed at helping the transformation of health care systems around the world. Most of the health care systems in the world are facing challenges from the standpoints of cost, quality and outreach. General Electric Healthcare has therefore introduced this innovation to help the global health care systems reduce costs and improve outcomes. Our aim, through this initiative is to lower the cost and improve the overall quality of health care in the world. Our approach to reach the goal is done in different ways. We have modeled this initiative based on the success of Ecomagination.
Q. Ecomagination is a green initiative. In what way it serves the environment better?
A. Ecomagination is an initiative that was launched five years ago. It is about the environment, a green initiative for most of our businesses. It became a lens and a filter for our innovation. We wanted to make sure that the engines we are building for the airplanes or trains will have a positive impact on the environment. Instead of building the next best engine, we wanted the existing engine to be a green one with fuel efficiency, etc.
Q. What are the latest trends in health care technology and how do they help enhance health care in the Kingdom?
A. There are technologies emerging that will significantly contribute to the welfare of Saudis. Take for example the diagnostic technology, the more we shift health care toward diagnosis, the better it will be. And early diagnosis could lessen the course of treatment ultimately leading to lower costs and better quality of life. So, our major initiative is on diagnostics. Early diagnosis of diseases like oncology, cardiovascular and neurology is helpful in treating them early and possibly avoiding complications.
The emerging technology in health care is tracers that help detect diseases. These technologies also enable us to monitor the treatment better, so we can quickly see if the treatment is effective and even correct it. This is one type of emerging technology and the other is information technology. In health care much of paper work is done back and forth, between prescription, charts and medical history. Information technology is going to lead to a significant reduction of medical errors and make the system efficient. Both lead to lower costs and better quality. We participated in this field through technology that allows images to be shared between hospitals. We call it the Global Image Exchange Program, which we are looking forward to building it in the Kingdom. This will also enhance the health care system for remote areas. Three months ago, we announced a joint venture with Microsoft, through a technology developed for a "better decision support."
If we consider how the standard of health care gets built, we note that a new type to diagnose takes 10 to 15 years to develop from an advanced to a standoff care. This means not everybody is diagnosing the same way. Our technology, which is a software, will allow to extract the data, look at the pattern and help the doctor make a decision to potentially reduce the cycle of time and extend standard care in a much faster way.
A third type of technology is emerging in health care, which could be beneficial to people in remote areas. They could benefit from our telemedicine, where a doctor can potentially help another doctor to diagnose or treat the patient in a remote place by offering a second opinion. This also applies in radiology where images can be shared and more opinions can be sought. Therefore we are putting together mobile clinics and mobile diagnostic centers. The role of companies like ours is to help turn this into a reality, not only through technology but also the know-how. And we saw this in the cooperation we had with the MOH during the Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign.
Q. How do you see the challenges facing the private and public sectors in developing health care?
A. I look at the private sector as a locomotive. It helps pull the overall system upward. Most of the time it invests in high-end technologies and is always looking for innovation. Having a private sector that is active and investing is key to good health care. Therefore, we partner with many of those medical centers and health care investors who are meeting the expanding demand. This will encourage the others in the field and try to compete for the best of the health care system in general. The public sector can never do enough and so the private sector is always there to support and fill the gap.