Expats should note that the quality of healthcare in Kazakhstan is highly variable, especially in the public sector. Although the government has been attempting to improve the service level, the quality of public healthcare has fallen dramatically since the end of the Soviet era. The public healthcare sector is chronically underfunded, and 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, which provides access to Kazakhstan's private hospitals and doctors.
Expats may notice that the bedside manner of Kazakhstani 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 owned by the government.
Although expats who are legal residents 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 relatively rare in the public healthcare sector, and expats making use of public healthcare should either be proficient in a local language or come with a fluent speaker who can act as a translator.
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 available in the area.
Private healthcare in Kazakhstan will still most likely not measure up to the standards that many expats 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 a nearby country for improved standards of care.
Health insurance in Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan implemented a law in 2020 requiring mandatory monthly public health insurance contributions from both employer and employee. This is expected to improve the standard of public healthcare. Regardless, expats may wish to purchase additional coverage to access the private sector and its associated benefits.
Pharmacies in Kazakhstan
Pharmacies are prevalent in Kazakhstan's larger cities, but expats should be aware that options may be limited. 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.
Kazakhstani pharmacists may not be able to answer questions in English about medication or other health matters, so it is best to get full details from one's doctor on how to take the prescribed medication.
Health hazards in Kazakhstan
While Kazakhstan's main health concerns are non-communicable illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and respiratory illnesses, cases of HIV and tuberculosis are prevalent, so expats should take appropriate precautions to avoid becoming infected.
Pre-travel vaccinations in Kazakhstan
Expats should ensure that routine vaccinations are 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, though operators are not likely to speak English and ambulance arrival times can be slow. For this reason, it may be preferable to drive to the hospital or take a taxi instead.