10 February, 2015 - Rapidly growing populations and per capita incomes, rising life expectancies, a high incidence of lifestyle-related diseases, and ambitious medical infrastructure projects are driving health care industry growth in the Middle East’s Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Yet even though the region is making appreciable progress in its efforts to improve health care access and quality, pressure on available capacity is increasing, and closing the wide gap between current and targeted states remains a top challenge in 2015. The health care workforce, especially physicians and nurses, remains mainly expatriates. This is according to Deloitte’s newly released report entitled, “2015 global health care outlook: Common goals, competing priorities”. This new report examines the current state of the global health care sector; describes the top issues facing stakeholders; provides a snapshot of activity in a number of geographic markets; and suggests considerations for companies to meet the challenges of 2015 and beyond.
“GCC countries depend heavily on government funding to meet health care needs. In Saudi Arabia, for example, the government accounted for 65.8 percent of health care spending in 2012, according to the World Health Organization (WHO)” said Julian Hawkins, partner in charge for Consulting at Deloitte Middle East.
The Deloitte report finds that to address the increasing demand for healthcare, which includes Saudi nationals who are entitled to free health care, as well as religious pilgrims, the government’s 2014 budget allocated $28.8 billion to health and social welfare. The funding includes plans for 11 new hospitals, 11 medical centers and two medical complexes, on top of the 132 hospitals and health care centers already under construction. However, after several years of large budgetary spending increases, the Saudi government is intensifying its efforts to promote private health care, via expanded health insurance, increased loan limits to build private hospitals, and support for public-private partnerships.
The Deloitte report also finds that health care, education, and social services continue to be priorities in the UAE’s federal budget. In terms of health care, UAE nationals are covered under the government-funded health care program, whilst expatriates have to pay for private health care insurance. Although, the UAE government is encouraging more private participation in the sector, it will likely continue to finance the bulk of health care spending in the near term.
“Unequal access to health care facilities and a continued shortage of health care professionals across the Middle East illustrate the region’s need for more private sector involvement to fill the gap between increasing needs and available capacity,” explains Hawkins. “Governments are responding to this imperative by introducing programs and incentives to encourage private sector growth, optimize current operations, and leverage technology to raise the quality of health care services in GCC countries”.