Saudi Arabia: Striving to build sustainable healthcare systems

Nestled in the heart of the Arabian desert, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) stands as a symbol of rich history and global influence. Founded in 1932 by King Abdulaziz, or Ibn Saud, it emerged from a series of remarkable conquests, notably the capture of Riyadh in 1902, the ancestral homeland of the House of Saud. Spanning a vast expanse of 2,149,690 square kilometers, Saudi Arabia boasts an enchanting coastline stretching 2,640 kilometers along the Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea. As of 2023, its population stands at 36,947,025, with a steady annual growth rate of 1.48%, marked by a significant foreign resident presence.

At the core of this captivating nation lies a healthcare system characterised by its three-tiered infrastructure, guaranteeing universal coverage. The system encompasses Primary Healthcare Services, offering fundamental preventive care and education, followed by hospitals and specialty centers constituting the secondary tier, providing advanced care and diagnostics. At the apex are specialized hospitals offering cutting-edge healthcare, encompassing life-saving procedures like organ transplants and advanced cancer treatments.

Remarkably, 62% of the nation’s hospitals fall under the purview of the Ministry of Health, with the remainder managed by various government entities. Saudi Arabia proudly boasts over 40 JCI-accredited hospitals, a testament to its unwavering commitment to international quality standards. This robust healthcare framework is meticulously overseen and led by the Ministry of Health, which not only shapes policies but also delivers comprehensive healthcare services nationwide. The Ministry of Defence and the National Guard play pivotal roles in maintaining healthcare standards, while the Saudi Food & Drug Authority vigilantly oversees imports to ensure the safety of medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and food products. The National Unified Company for Medical streamlines procurement, and the Cooperative of Health Insurance, operating independently, fosters fairness and transparency in the health insurance sector.

In this journey through Saudi Arabia’s healthcare landscape, we witness the harmonious blend of tradition and innovation, all dedicated to safeguarding the well-being of its people.

Saudi Arabia’s world-class healthcare institutions

The Saudi government has invested heavily in healthcare infrastructure, resulting in a surge in the number of hospitals and primary healthcare centres. By 2021, the country boasted over 460 hospitals and 2,000 primary healthcare centres. This commitment to healthcare is underscored by increased government spending. In 2020, the government allocated SAR 147 billion (US$39.2 billion) for the sector, a notable increase from previous years. In 2022, an impressive US$36.8 billion was allocated for healthcare and social development, representing a substantial 14.4% of the national budget.

Specialised healthcare is well-represented by institutions like the King Khaled Eye Specialist Hospital, which offers 363 beds and handles complex and rare cases from across the Kingdom. The Saud Al-Babtain Cardiac Centre in Dammam has earned international recognition for high-quality healthcare services. King Fahad Specialist Hospital in Dammam, one of the largest specialized hospitals operated by the Ministry of Health (MOH), offers precise and sophisticated healthcare services. King Fahad Medical City, founded in 2004, is one of the Middle East’s largest medical complexes with 1,095 beds, catering to a vast number of inpatients and outpatients across four hospitals.

Heraa Hospital, established in 1984, provides comprehensive care with 277 beds and 20 ICU beds, covering various medical specialties. King Abdulaziz Hospital in Taif, operational since 2002, accommodates 500 beds, offering specialized care. King Saud Hospital in Unaizah, inaugurated in 1990, covers an extensive area and provides a wide array of healthcare services. King Fahad Hospital in Jeddah, founded in 1980, is the largest MOH hospital in the region and serves as a referential hospital for emergencies and traffic accidents. Saudi Arabia boasts world-class healthcare institutions with cutting-edge technology. King Fahd Medical City, for example, stands out as a beacon of healthcare excellence, featuring state-of-the-art technologies. The King Abdulaziz Medical Center in Jeddah, with its substantial bed capacity of 751, serves the healthcare needs of the western region.

Saudi Arabia’s commitment extends to the development of five medical cities, including King Fahad Medical City in Riyadh, King Abdullah Medical City in Makkah, King Khalid Medical City in Dammam, King Faisal Medical City for Southern Regions, and Prince Mohammed Bin Abdulaziz Medical City for northern regions. These medical cities are expected to enhance medical tourism by fostering integration between local and global communities.

Improved healthcare quality indicators, UHC, and investments

Saudi Arabia has made remarkable progress in enhancing its healthcare system. Over the years, several healthcare indicators have shown significant improvement. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), life expectancy at birth in the country has steadily increased from 68 years in 1990 to an impressive 74 years in 2019. Additionally, there has been a substantial reduction in the infant mortality rate, plummeting from 32.5 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to an impressive 5.3 per 1,000 live births in 2019.

In 2019, the Saudi government launched Universal Health Coverage, ensuring that all Saudi citizens have access to free healthcare services. This initiative has played a crucial role in addressing prevalent health issues such as cardiovascular diseases, obesity, diabetes, and lower respiratory infections. Efforts have also been made to expand extended care services such as rehabilitation, long-term care, and home care. A greater distribution of these services will be made available across the Kingdom to ensure that individuals in remote areas have wider access to care options.

As the healthcare system advances, a key priority is to increase the number of healthcare professionals to match the growing population. Saudi Arabia has witnessed a 65% increase in healthcare professionals since the program’s inception, indicating a fresh wave of talent to drive the vision forward. The newly established Health Holding Company (HHC), appointed by the government to oversee healthcare services, is at the forefront of digitizing and advancing the Kingdom’s healthcare system. Taking over tasks previously handled by the Ministry of Health, the HHC will focus on providing medical services and care through upcoming health clusters, and independent companies specialising in various medical services.

In terms of healthcare personnel, Saudi Arabia employs 98,074 physicians, with 29.5% representing the Saudi workforce. The nursing workforce comprises 185,693 individuals, making up 36.7% of the Saudi workforce. Additionally, the country employs 28,312 pharmacists, accounting for 22.2% of the Saudi workforce.

Saudi Arabia has made substantial investments in healthcare infrastructure, resulting in a significant rise in the number of hospitals and primary healthcare centres. As of 2021, there were over 460 hospitals in the country, along with 2,000 primary healthcare centres, including 158 private health facilities. Looking ahead, the government has ambitious plans to privatise 295 hospitals and 2,259 healthcare centres by 2030. Notable achievements include the increase in the percentage of patients receiving emergency medical care within four hours of arrival, which rose from 26% in 2016 to an impressive 87% in 2020. Hospital and primary care services have also seen increased satisfaction levels, reflecting the positive systemic changes.

Patient satisfaction has also seen improvements, with satisfaction in hospital services increasing from 81.5% in 2019 to 84.06% in 2020. Satisfaction in primary care services has risen from 73% in 2018 to 80.52% in 2020, reflecting systemic changes across the board. Looking ahead, primary healthcare remains a key focus to ensure greater provision and consistency across the country, alongside increased availability of rehabilitation, long-term, and home care services. The emphasis is on elevating the quality of patient care, with plans for standardization aided by greater digitalization methods that will support resource management, activity levels, product quality, and performance.

These positive strides position Saudi Arabia as an attractive destination for foreign investment. Privatization targets and increasing demand create new market opportunities in the Kingdom for private healthcare players and investors. Major private healthcare companies like Saudi German Health, Dr. Sulaiman Al-Habib Medical Group, and King’s College Hospital have already announced plans to open or expand their services in Saudi Arabia, anticipating growth in demand over time.Top of Form

Demand for bed space

According to data from Export.gov, the healthcare landscape in Saudi Arabia is marked by a significant reliance on the public sector, which also incurs the majority of healthcare expenditures. This public healthcare domain represents a substantial 79% of the total bed capacity within the country. However, there is a notable shift on the horizon, as industry insiders anticipate a rapid expansion of the private sector, driven by recent government initiatives aimed at fostering increased private sector participation in healthcare provision.

Evidently, the Saudi government places a high priority on enhancing citizens’ access to in-patient healthcare services. This commitment is exemplified by the remarkable growth in the number of hospital beds, which as of 2021 had reached 75,000, equating to 2.3 beds for every 1,000 people. Despite these significant strides, future projections indicate a pressing need for an additional 20,000 beds by the year 2025 to adequately address the escalating demands for healthcare services. Illustrating this demand further, research conducted by Knight Frank underscores that Saudi Arabia must accommodate an additional 5,000 beds by 2020 and a staggering 20,000 beds by 2035, given the current bed-to-population ratio, in order to keep pace with the country’s population growth.

Furthermore, when assessed against the global average of bed density, Saudi Arabia faced a shortfall of 14,000 beds in 2016. Alarmingly, this deficit is expected to widen to a staggering 40,000 beds by 2035. This alarming trend necessitates urgent attention to bridge this considerable gap in healthcare infrastructure. Adding to the complexity of the situation, the increasing life expectancy of both males and females in the country is poised to create a significant demand for long-term care (LTC) facilities.

This demand will be particularly centred around geriatric care, rehabilitation, and home healthcare services. Colliers International suggests that based on current international benchmarks of 4-6 beds per 1,000 population aged above 65 years, Saudi Arabia currently requires anywhere between 6,400 to 9,600 LTC beds. Looking ahead to the year 2050, this requirement is projected to skyrocket to a range of 41,200 to 61,800 LTC beds, painting a vivid picture of the evolving healthcare landscape.

To meet these growing healthcare needs, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is poised to require substantial investments in the healthcare sector alone, estimated at a staggering SR250 billion (US$ 66.65 billion) by the year 2030. This underscores the gravity of the situation and the imperative need for comprehensive planning and investments to bolster the healthcare infrastructure and services in the country.

Transforming healthcare through privatisation

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 initiative, launched in 2016, outlines an ambitious plan for the nation’s development, including a massive US$65 billion investment in healthcare infrastructure. A central aspect of this plan is increasing the private sector’s contribution to healthcare from 40% to 65% by 2030, involving the privatization of 290 hospitals and 2,300 primary health centres.

The Privatization Program, a key component of Vision 2030, aims to enhance private sector participation in various sectors, with a strong focus on healthcare. Within healthcare, it seeks to reduce public expenditure, improve access, enhance care quality, and boost efficiency. The program has led to the creation of healthcare clusters strategically positioned to serve regional demographics and needs, with dedicated consulting bodies overseeing each cluster.

These clusters, each serving around one million people, represent the future of Saudi healthcare. An early example, the First Health Cluster in the Eastern Province, comprises 10 hospitals and 95 primary healthcare centres, with oversight from consulting bodies with expertise from constituent hospitals.

The transformation of Saudi Arabia’s healthcare system has attracted scholarly interest, with studies highlighting the rationale behind privatization. Privatisation addresses issues like fragmentation, fiscal dependency, dissatisfaction, and subpar care quality. The heavy reliance on government funding became unsustainable amid economic instability and increasing healthcare demands due to population growth and rising life expectancy.

Saudi Arabia’s population is expected to reach 39.3 million by 2030, with life expectancy at 76.6 years, necessitating a shift towards healthcare privatisation. Foreign investors were granted 100% ownership in the healthcare sector, aligning with the government’s commitment to privatization and positioning Saudi Arabia in the international medical tourism market.

Looking forward, Saudi Arabia plans to strengthen capacity building through public-private partnerships, focusing on specialised facilities in fields like oncology, gynaecology, and cosmetology. This strategy aims to meet growing healthcare demands and establish Saudi Arabia as a global healthcare leader.

currently, the kingdom boasts 40 local pharmaceutical factories, covering 29% ofits pharmaceutical needs, generating revenue exceeding sar1 billion (us$266.6 million)


Tweet

The booming digital health market in Saudi Arabia

The digital health market in Saudi Arabia is rapidly growing, driven by various factors and government initiatives. The Saudi government has allocated a significant budget of US$1.5 billion for healthcare IT and digital transformation programs, emphasizing the importance of this sector.

The Ministry of Health has introduced an e-Health strategy that focuses on leveraging telemedicine to improve healthcare accessibility and quality, particularly in remote areas. Impressively, the country has achieved a remarkable telehealth adoption rate of 70%. Additionally, about 34% of young physicians are using artificial intelligence (AI) for diagnoses. Notably, the Seha Virtual Hospital, unveiled in 2022, is the world’s largest of its kind.

Furthermore, the expansion of the insured population and the implementation of mandatory health insurance mandates have played a significant role in the growth of the digital health sector. Medical insurance has become a requirement for various segments of the population, including expatriates, Saudi employees in the private sector, and tourists, with strict enforcement increasing coverage.

As of August 2023, Saudi Arabia has made substantial progress in ensuring comprehensive health insurance coverage. The Council of Cooperative Health Insurance (CCHI) mandated a unified health insurance policy for all private-sector employers since July 1, 2018. Currently, there are 29 registered insurers, along with 186 brokers and service providers, covering 11.46 million insured individuals, including Saudi employees and expatriates, and their dependents. Leading insurance companies, such as Al-Rajhi Company, Aljazira Takaful Taawuni Company, SABB Takaful, and others, have played a pivotal role in expanding health insurance coverage.

Moreover, in 2022, Saudi Arabia allocated over US$36 billion to healthcare, with a focus on advancing digital healthcare innovation. Proximie, a global health tech firm, has collaborated with physicians and healthcare networks in Saudi Arabia, offering a virtual operating room platform. This technology allows renowned surgeons to participate in real-time during surgeries conducted in clinics and hospitals across the country. It not only improves patient outcomes but also facilitates the exchange of clinical best practices among physicians, regardless of their geographic location.

Saudi Arabia’s medical tourism growth potential

Saudi Arabia has the potential to excel in the medical tourism industry, particularly if it integrates it with religious tourism. A recent study by the strategic consulting and market research firm; BlueWeave Consulting revealed that the Saudi Arabia Medical Tourism Market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 4.6% during the forecast period 2022-2028. Market growth is anticipated owing to a well-established and robust healthcare ecosystem and the quintessential spiritual identity of Saudi Arabia, driving the market growth of the regional medical tourism market. Furthermore, the nation’s unique potential lies in its religious significance, as it serves as a holy place for over one billion Muslims worldwide. Annually, approximately 5 million Muslims make the pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia for Hajj and Umrah, with the cities of Makkah and Madina naturally drawing millions of Muslim visitors. This significant influx of pilgrims presents an opportunity to promote medical tourism alongside religious tourism.

Compared to its Middle Eastern counterparts, Saudi Arabia’s medical tourism industry is relatively less promoted. However, this oil-rich nation’s wealth is reflected in its high-quality and luxurious medical facilities. What sets Saudi Arabia apart is not only the opulence but also the advanced technology and infrastructure that support its healthcare sector. Moreover, Saudi pharmaceuticals adhere to the stringent standards of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, underscoring the country’s commitment to excellence in healthcare.

The country’s wealth has led to the establishment of numerous JCI-accredited healthcare institutions, setting the stage for further development in the medical tourism sector. Accreditation plays a pivotal role in building trust among international patients, and Saudi Arabia has made impressive strides in this regard. In 2012, more than 40 hospitals received accreditation from the Joint Commission International (JCI), a number that has grown to an incredible 106 to date. Many of these lie in the nation’s capital, Riyadh, as well as the other populous cities of Jeddah and Medina. As of 2021, the number of hospitals in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia amounted to 497. This reflected an increase of 77 hospitals compared to 2011. The total number of hospitals across the country has been constantly on the rise in the last decade. The majority of Saudi doctors undergo training in Western countries, equipping them with the latest medical techniques and treatments, commanding a substantial level of confidence in international patients.

Evolving inbound and outbound markets in 2021 and beyond

In terms of the types of medical tourism, inbound medical tourism accounted for a larger market share in 2021 and is anticipated to witness a higher growth rate during the forecast period. Outbound medical travel, on the other hand, is predicted to expand significantly during the forecast period 2022-2028, owing to advances in medical technology and the development of more economical medical procedures in other countries. Though the healthcare facilities in the country are impressive, certain medical procedures require expensive medical devices and drugs, thereby making it unaffordable for certain patients. While government-aided outbound travel for medical purposes profits through it and aids the growth of Saudi Arabia’s medical tourism market. Wealthy residents tend to travel to countries like the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, and China for medical treatments. In fact, back in 2008, over 200,000 patients sought medical treatments abroad. According to the Saudi Ministry of Health, around 2,400 Saudi patients received treatment abroad, with a total cost of approximately US$800 million.

Popular destinations for Saudi Arabian patients seeking treatment abroad include Britain, Germany, Canada, and the United States. In 2017, the cost of treatment abroad for 2,400 patients was approximately US$330,000, with some of it covered by the government and the rest paid by the patients themselves. Interestingly, among those who funded their own medical trips, 49% preferred to go to Pakistan, especially for renal transplants, followed by the Philippines (28%), Egypt (11%), and the US (3.2%). Couples facing reproductive issues in Saudi Arabia also often choose to go abroad for treatment due to privacy considerations. However, it’s essential to note that there has been a significant drop in the number of Saudi patients seeking medical treatment abroad. In 2019, 2,842 individuals went abroad for treatment, but in 2020, only 488 Saudis sought medical treatment abroad, representing an 82% decline. This drop in numbers can be attributed to the more severe impact of the pandemic in 2020.

Arab nations account for a substantial portion of the global medical tourism industry, contributing around 30% of the US$100 billion spent annually on healthcare tourism worldwide. The president of the Arab Tourism Organization, Bandar Al-Fihaid, anticipates that the medical tourism market will expand to over US$200 billion in the next decade, underscoring the economic and investment opportunities it presents for the Arab region.

While Saudi Arabia’s healthcare industry is on the rise, it faces stiff competition from Asian and Eastern European countries, which have been drawing a significant share of medical tourists from the Middle East. These nations offer quality healthcare at more affordable prices. Additionally, procedures like cosmetic surgery are widely accessible in various countries at a lower cost compared to Saudi Arabia. The cultural and political landscape in Saudi Arabia poses challenges for attracting medical tourists from regions where Westernized practices are the norm. Stringent dress codes and conservative societal norms may deter potential patients. Furthermore, the country’s legal system, perceived as stricter, may not align with the preferences of medical tourists.

Capital financing challenges and opportunities in Saudi Arabia’s healthcare sector

Capital financing plays a pivotal role in shaping Saudi Arabia’s healthcare landscape. Financial institutions, primarily banks, show interest in healthcare investments, but their engagement tends to favor established players. For newcomers, securing project finance is a significant challenge, given the long-term commitment required, which often exceeds banks’ customary risk appetite.

New entrants often turn to private investors, leading to licensing and operating agreements that involve management fees. Alternatives include different ownership structures like Operating Company/Property Company Deal (Opco/Propco) models or joint ventures with investors. Each option has financial, operational, and legal implications, necessitating professional guidance.

The Saudi government promotes private-sector participation due to the substantial healthcare investment needed. Healthcare assets are emerging as a viable asset class amid limited opportunities in traditional markets. Healthcare projects with strong demographic demand continue to attract funding, even during economic uncertainties. The healthcare sector’s resilience, often considered “recession-proof,” has driven interest in sale-and-leaseback approaches, where operators create PropCo/OpCo structures and sell real estate assets to institutional investors, subject to long-term lease agreements.

The substantial investment requirement restricts retail investors, but Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) could be a solution. Colliers estimates that REITs in Saudi Arabia could unlock substantial property value, offering diversification and income streams for investors while supporting the healthcare sector’s growth.Localisation of pharmaceutical manufacturing in Saudi Arabia

The pharmaceutical and medical devices industries in Saudi Arabia are experiencing significant advancements, with a particular focus on localising manufacturing operations. Saudi Arabia’s pharmaceutical sector plays a crucial role in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), accounting for approximately 60% of pharmaceutical product purchases in the region. This sector is set for substantial growth, with an expected annual growth rate of 5.5%, projected to reach a market value of US$10.8 billion by 2023. Notably, the pharmaceutical market is concentrating its efforts on producing drugs for diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, antibiotics, and cancer treatment, which present promising prospects.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia’s pharmaceutical sector is already the largest in the Middle East in terms of investment, representing about 30% of the region’s total value. Currently, the Kingdom boasts 40 local pharmaceutical factories, covering 29% of its pharmaceutical needs, generating revenue exceeding SAR1 billion (US$266.6 million). The government is actively incentivizing local manufacturing to shift from low-value medical commodities to high-value medical products, fostering an environment conducive to innovation and growth.

Some of the high-value medical products showing promise in Saudi Arabia include COVID-19 testing kits, personal protective equipment (PPE), emergency room equipment, rehabilitation equipment, diagnostic equipment, orthopaedic devices, dental appliances and prosthetics, glucometers, implants, medical consumables, and advanced wound management products.

In 2022, the Local Content and Government Procurement Authority (LCGPA) signed seven agreements aimed at localizing the pharmaceutical industry and transferring knowledge, partnering with companies such as Tabuk Pharmaceuticals and the Saudi Pharmaceutical Industries and Medical Appliances Corporation (SPIMACO). These agreements target various pharmaceutical products, including thrombin inhibitors, antibiotics, muscle contraction treatments, anticoagulants, and immunosuppressants. They come with incentives, including listing on the mandatory list of national products. The localization of these products is expected to contribute significantly to the GDP, with cumulative gains of SAR500 million (US$133.3 million) over the next decade. This initiative also involves direct investments of up to SAR145 million (US$38.7 million), aiming to cover SAR 111 million (US$29.6 million) of government demand annually, ultimately aligning with the goals of Saudi Vision 2030.

Enhancing Saudi Arabia’s pharma supply chain for import reduction

The pharmaceutical supply chain in Saudi Arabia heavily relies on imports, making it susceptible to various risks. The Saudi government is committed to reducing this dependency by localising the production of active pharmaceutical ingredients, generic and branded drugs, and packaging. This aligns with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 initiative, emphasising local pharmaceutical production, technology transfer, clinical trials, and workforce development. By producing these essential pharmaceutical components domestically, Saudi Arabia aims to enhance economic resilience and self-sufficiency, mitigating risks related to global economic fluctuations, political instability, and natural disasters.

Aligned with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 initiative, the government actively encourages local pharmaceutical production, technology transfer, clinical trials, and workforce training. This approach signals a clear message to pharmaceutical companies: the government prioritizes investment within Saudi Arabia. Vision 2030 outlines strategic objectives for the healthcare industry, including improving the pharmaceutical sector’s business environment and increasing the private sector’s contribution to healthcare expenditure. The National Transformation Program (NTP), an integral part of Vision 2030, supports these goals, with plans for healthcare privatization and increased private sector participation.

Pharmaceutical investment in Saudi Arabia is on the rise, with multinational giants such as Novartis, Pfizer, Sanofi, Merck, and GlaxoSmithKline establishing a presence through direct investment or local partnerships. The successful initial public offering of Jamjoom Pharma, raising SAR1.26 billion (US$340 million), underscores growing confidence in the Saudi economy’s potential.

The increasing demand for healthcare services, driven by factors such as an aging population, rising chronic diseases, and heightened public awareness, serves as a catalyst for pharmaceutical investment. According to Fitch Solutions, Saudi Arabia’s pharmaceutical market is expected to reach SR56.6 billion in 2027, with an annual growth rate of 5.2%.

Saudi Arabia’s government has also introduced regulatory reforms to encourage investment and support the local pharmaceutical industry. Beyond the domestic market, the Kingdom’s strategic location and robust logistics infrastructure make it an attractive hub for pharmaceutical companies looking to serve the broader Middle East and North Africa region.

Meanwhile, the medical devices market is thriving in Saudi Arabia and is estimated at a value of US$2 billion, with an impressive annual growth rate of approximately 10%. The growing emphasis on healthcare and increased demand for medical services create a strong market for medical equipment within the country. Recent regulatory changes, such as the Medical Device Interim Regulations, have transformed Saudi Arabia into a regulated market for all types of medical devices, requiring Saudi Food & Drug Authority (SFDA) Market Authorisation for manufacturers looking to supply medical devices within the Kingdom. This regulatory framework opens doors for medical device manufacturers, service providers, and dealers to make substantial progress in the Saudi market.

Evidencing the growth potential of the medical devices sector, major players in the medical manufacturing industry, such as NABD Medical Industries, have made substantial investments, with NABD investing a significant sum of US$61.9 million in the Saudi Healthcare Market. Other notable investors in this lucrative market include companies like Namat, Future Vision, and many more who have also made substantial contributions.

Challenges in the Saudi healthcare sector

Saudi Arabia’s healthcare system, though making strides, faces pressing challenges across accessibility, quality, and overall effectiveness. Chief among these challenges is a severe shortage of healthcare professionals, notably in rural areas, with an estimated deficit of 15,000 doctors and 20,000 nurses. This shortage leads to extended waiting times and limited access to care, prompting government efforts like establishing new medical schools and hiring foreign healthcare workers.

Another major issue is the system’s focus on curative care over preventive measures, contributing to rising rates of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. NCDs now top the country’s causes of mortality, necessitating more substantial efforts to improve public health and combat these diseases. Private health insurance primarily relies on employers, covering around 67% of policies, leaving over 30% of the population dependent on public healthcare services. This strains public facilities and leads to lengthy wait times.

Mental health services face significant limitations, driven by cultural stigmas and a shortage of professionals, particularly in rural areas. With only 2.2 psychiatrists per 100,000 people, compared to the global average of 9.0, access to mental healthcare is constrained. Additionally, the healthcare system’s heavy reliance on government funding calls for exploration of alternative financing mechanisms to ensure long-term sustainability. These challenges underscore the need for a comprehensive strategy to revamp and enhance Saudi Arabia’s healthcare system to meet the demands of its growing population effectively.

This feature appeared in the June 2022 issue of Healthcare Middle East & Africa. You can read this and the entire magazine HERE