Healthcare in Kazakhstan

Expats will find that the quality of healthcare in Kazakhstan is highly variable, especially in the public sector. Although the government has been making attempts to improve the level of service, the quality of public healthcare has fallen dramatically since the end of the Soviet era. The public healthcare sector is chronically underfunded, and there are rumours that bribery and corruption have become rife among underpaid medical professionals.

For this reason, most expats avoid public healthcare services, and instead invest in comprehensive private health insurance in order to make use of Kazakhstan's private hospitals and doctors.

Expats may notice that the bedside manner of Kazakh doctors is quite different from that of Western doctors. While they may come off as unsympathetic or impatient, especially when facing time constraints and a language barrier, this is quite common and shouldn't be taken as a personal slight.

Public healthcare in Kazakhstan

Public hospitals are easy to find in Kazakhstan, as around 70 percent of the country's hospitals are government-owned.

Although expats legally resident in Kazakhstan are entitled to use the public healthcare system, it's difficult to predict the quality of treatment. While some expats report receiving adequate to good care, others have noted that the standard of treatment is low with a constant shortage of medication and equipment.

English-speaking medical professionals are very rare in the public healthcare sector, and expats going this route should either be proficient in a local language or should come armed with a fluent speaker that can act as a translator. If this is not possible, expats can consider the rather roundabout solution of downloading a smartphone application such as Google Translate. Using the application, they can communicate with their doctor by typing in English, selecting Kazakh or Russian, and hitting the "translate" button. Be sure to install a Cyrillic keyboard as well so that the doctor can type in Kazakh or Russian when replying, before again pushing the "translate" button for English.

Private healthcare in Kazakhstan

Although private hospitals offer better treatment than public hospitals, expats may still face some challenges. While English-speaking doctors are more prevalent in the private healthcare sector, they can still be somewhat hard to find, especially in smaller towns and rural areas. Insurance companies should be able to recommend English-speaking doctors if there are any in the area. Otherwise, some medical insurance schemes include the services of a translator for doctors' visits.

Private healthcare in Kazakhstan will still most likely not measure up to the standards that expats from America or Europe may be used to, but they are a definite step up from the country's public services. For major operations or serious medical emergencies, expats are usually advised to utilise medical evacuation services to be airlifted to a nearby country for improved standards of medical treatment.

Pharmacies in Kazakhstan

Pharmacies are prevalent in Kazakhstan's larger cities, but expats should be aware that options may be limited. Herbal remedies are often recommended by doctors in combination with medication and expats used to the Western style of medicine may find this odd. Over-the-counter medications common in other countries may not be readily available in Kazakhstan, so it's best for expats to bring their own from home.

Kazakh pharmacists will generally not be keen to answer questions about medication, so it is best to get full details from one's doctor on how to take the prescribed medication. Patient information leaflets should not be relied on as they don't usually come in English.

Health insurance in Kazakhstan

A yet-to-be-implemented law will require employers to contribute to a national medical insurance fund for their employees. As it stands, most employers do provide employees with medical insurance as a matter of course. In some cases, expats may wish to purchase additional coverage, especially in preparation of the possibility of medical evacuation.

Health hazards in Kazakhstan

While Kazakhstan's main health concerns are non-communicable illnesses like cardiovascular disease, cancer and respiratory illnesses, cases of HIV and tuberculosis have been on the rise, so expats should take appropriate precautions to avoid becoming infected.

Pre-travel vaccinations in Kazakhstan

Routine vaccinations should be up to date before travelling to Kazakhstan. Expats should also get vaccinations for typhoid and hepatitis A as there is a slight risk of contraction through contaminated food or water.

Emergency services in Kazakhstan

In a medical emergency, expats can dial 103 for an ambulance. Operators are not likely to speak English though, and ambulance arrival times can be slow. For this reason, it may be preferable to drive to the hospital or take a taxi instead.