The healthcare sector in the Middle East is undergoing rapid and profound changes. During the last ten years this trend has been more visible than ever.
Countries in the Middle East are opting for a mostly privatized healthcare model similar to the United States. Whether or not the United States’ model should be emulated, lock stock and barrel, is an expansive topic of discussion in and of itself. However, regardless of which model is adopted, Middle Eastern countries can certainly benefit from the vast experience in healthcare management that countries like the United States have accumulated. In order to benefit from such experience, a clear and well thought out strategy is being implemented.
Let us take the example of the most dynamic economy in the MENA region – the United Arab Emirates. Having adopted a private healthcare model similar to the United States, it saw explosive growth in the healthcare sector and continues to see so. While there is no dearth of quality healthcare in Dubai, the challenge has been the rising cost of it. In November 2013, the rulers of Dubai made it compulsory of companies to provide medical insurance to all employees to tackle this issue. With one stroke, healthcare has become affordable for a big chunk of the population even with higher end healthcare providers. Aster DM Healthcare, which started with a single clinic in 1987, has expanded rapidly during the last decade to fulfil the demand in this region and is now the largest healthcare provider in the Gulf. Today, the healthcare conglomerate has more than 13,000 employees, 260+establishments, 4000+ Beds and 1500+ doctors. These nos. include the brand’s Medcare vertical, which services the higher income patient clientele. UAE is currently witnessing a boom in healthcare services, with several jobs opportunities opening up for healthcare professionals.
Following last October’s haj pilgrimage season in Saudi Arabia, the World Health Organisation (WHO) heaped praise on the kingdom’s healthcare facilities, with one WHO official remarking that “the well-equipped hospitals designated to serve haj pilgrims indeed surpassed many of the world-class hospitals.” Separately, Bloomberg recently placed Saudi Arabia 29th in a ranking of the efficiency of healthcare systems around the world, based on life expectancy, healthcare expenditure as a proportion of GDP, and healthcare costs per capita. In April 2009 Saudi Arabia approved a ten-year strategic healthcare plan covering the period 2010-20. Among other things, the plan foresees tertiary and quaternary care in each of the kingdom’s regions. As a result, explains Dr Al Yamany, four medical cities are being built – in the north, the south, the east and the west – in addition to the existing King Fahd Medical City in the central region. “So the overall plan is that every region will be independent in terms of provision of care.”
Qatar’s growing healthcare sector is undergoing rapid change. To develop from a country with just one hospital in the 1970s to a sophisticated, integrated, world-class system serving the nation’s 1.7 million residents and citizens, the Government has set an ambitious agenda for the next decade. This development is being overseen by the Supreme Council of Health (SCH) which is run under the auspices of the Minister of Health and Secretary General, His Excellency Abdulla bin Khalid Al-Qahtani. In 2011, the SCH developed and launched the National Health Strategy 2011 to 2016, identifying 35 specific projects as a catalyst for far reaching reform of the country’s healthcare system. Projects include transformation of cancer services in the country, as well as plans to curb the diabetes and obesity epidemics. This is underpinned by the establishment of an integrated system of healthcare for the country as well as a range of preventative programmes. .
Jordan has achieved great results in providing the right to healthcare to a large number of citizens: Jordanians are now more aware of health issues, notably through the construction of numerous governmental or private hospitals and health centres all over the country. Moreover, each year Jordan allocates 9% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to health care, which is among one of the highest percentages in the world. Theoretically, all citizens have a right to healthcare. In 2012 there were 106 hospitals in Jordan and 12,108 hospital beds, which is an acceptable percentage according to international standards per population. The existing hospitals are to be expanded, and new modern hospitals will be built. In 2012, there were 16,362 doctors (across Jordan) 16362, giving a ratio of 26.5 doctor per 10,000 citizens, which is also an acceptable ratio according to international standards.
The continuous improvement in all aspects of public health in Egypt has been internationally recognized. Some of the prominent successful initiatives include the progress made on the health-related. Millennium Development Goals, mandatory immunization that eradicated Poliomyelitis in Egypt, the setting up of an Egyptian national program to combat tuberculosis, developing a national program for prevention and control of Viral Hepatitis B/C, and the near eradication of Bilharziasis. All of the aforementioned initiatives are provided at no cost to all Egyptians, thus uniquely embracing the concept of equity as a guiding principle in healthcare services provision. A noteworthy establishment is the Regional Centre for Women’s Health and Development in Alexandria, with a primary responsibility to focus on research aimed at improving women’s health
The marriage between Middle Eastern and North African countries needing healthcare management expertise and foreign hospital management teams who can provide such expertise is potentially a very productive one. It is important that both sides use their strengths to develop a healthcare system that is viable in the long run under the umbrella of a clear strategy. For example, one strategic goal could be to deliver the best healthcare regardless of cost. Since financial resources in many MENA countries are substantial this might be a useful, long term strategy. So, for example, it might be more useful to focus on acquiring management teams and a work force that will create a work culture that will sustain good healthcare delivery. It appears that things are on the right track.