Healthcare Attitudes

When I was about eleven years old, my family moved to Qatar for a year due to my father’s professional commitment. Qatar is a Muslim country with a public healthcare system that offers free or subsidized healthcare to citizens and non-citizen residents. As is the norm in most Muslim Arab countries, the religion Islam exerts considerable influence on the affairs of the state as well as the public’s cultural and traditional belief system. I still remember the interest Qatari families would show in us because of the U.S. economic and political influence in the world and our families would exchange ideas on a wide range of issues including religion, politics, and culture.

As opposed to American culture which is tilted more towards individualism, Arab cultures including that of Qatar are collectivist in nature. An individual in Qatar is seen as part of the greater society, thus, his/her interests are secondary to the society’s overall interests. In Qatari culture, ethics and morals should be followed, even in commercial affairs and the blatant pursuit of profits and material wealth is perceived as a sign of corrupted mind. America presents itself as a model of capitalism and the pursuit of success and the monetary rewards that come with it are encouraged and even celebrated. Americans are also comfortable with the idea that corporations exist to make profit and the pursuit of profit maximization is perfectly fine as long as businesses engage in fair business practices.

Despite being the largest economy in the world, healthcare is still largely privatized in American and a significant proportion of Americans lacks health insurance or access to affordable healthcare services. This will most probably shock Qataris who may view it as another sign of moral corruption in America where money is put above lives. Qataris may also be surprised at the focus on profits by healthcare organizations in America because for them healthcare is a social service and the pursuit of profits by organizations at the cost of social service may be repulsive to them. Qataris may also allege that removing religion from politics leads to moral decline and America might have been better with religion in politics than the separation of church and state which has created a very materialistic society. I remember Qatari families telling my parents that in Islam, rich people should take care of less fortunate members of the society and income inequality should be reduced. Thus, it is reasonable that Qataris may think America should borrow some elements from socialism, especially in case of essential services like healthcare.