Healthcare indicators in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Region

Health care indicators in the GCC region are relatively good and have come a long way since only a few years back. Some of the most notable changes have been the decreased infectious disease rates and significant reductions in prenatal and maternal mortality.

Rapid Growth and Development

Healthcare in the Middle East has been in a phase of steady growth and development during the last decade and projections for the next few years show no signs of a slow-down.

Several factors are fueling demand across the region including:

  • Significant population growth rates
  • Rapid urbanization rates
  • Improved healthcare indicators leading to extended life expectancy
  • Expansion in the usage of health insurance
  • Increased rates of chronic illnesses and conditions related to lifestyle changes (e.g. obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases)

These trends are particularly notable in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries (i.e. Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain), most likely due to the fact that they have some of the highest economic activity in the region.

GCC governments (most notably, Saudi Arabia and the UAE) see the healthcare industry as a way of diversifying their respective economies, while at the same time easing political tensions. They are therefore actively committed to investing in its development and progress.

On the other hand, some of the less wealthy Middle Eastern countries like Iraq, Yemen and Syria are still struggling with low scoring healthcare indicators, shortages in healthcare professionals and infrastructure as well as outbreaks of communicable diseases (e.g. a relatively recent outbreak of Polio in Syria, resulted in an extensive immunization campaign across the Middle East).

Healthcare expenditures in the GCC are expected to reach € 70.6 bln by 2016 and the combined medical devices and pharmaceuticals market is expected to reach over € 118.5 bln by 2018.

A Move Towards Public/Private Partnerships (PPP’s)

Healthcare in the Middle East is mostly provided by the public sector, although local governments are taking measures to introduce programs and incentives to encourage private sector presence through public/private partnerships (PPP’s).

The benefits associated with an increased private sector role in healthcare include:

  • Conserving government resources by using private capital for infrastructure development
  • Improving quality and efficiency by accessing private sector expertise and experience
  • Promoting technology transfers and capacity building
  • Risk sharing
  • Helping government services operate competitively with the private sector

Although an increased private sector role is seen as beneficial in a variety of ways, the shift does have some difficulties attached like the need for general policy changes, changes in the organizational structure and the need to create new incentives.

Healthcare Professional Shortages

The challenge of having too few healthcare professionals to meet both current and future demands is a common trend in the Middle East.

Although efforts have been made to address this issue (e.g. increased focus on education, improved work conditions), the main solution has come in the form of “importing” healthcare practitioners from other countries (e.g. in some countries, expats can account for up to 75 percent of the healthcare staff).

Varying education and practice standards among a mostly expat healthcare workforce has led to inconsistencies in terms of medical techniques and practices across the region.

A Move Toward Technology as a Solution

Leading providers in the area of healthcare technologies (e.g. GE Healthcare, Philips), have shown increased interest in doing business with GCC countries which are investing heavily in technology as a way to step up their current services and provide state of the art care in a more efficient manner.

Although this trend is less obvious in less prominent Middle Eastern countries, there is also interest in working with countries that are considered to have future potential for growth (e.g. post-conflict markets like Iraq).

Increases in Smaller Healthcare Clinics and Ambulatory Centers

Aware of the importance of meeting the increased healthcare demands that are currently taking place and are set to increase in the next few years, Middle Eastern countries are putting much effort into the expansion of healthcare infrastructure.

In most cases, expansion projects take the form of small general facilities in rural areas or highly specialized units in the main cities (which also tend to be on the small side).

Many Middle Eastern countries, especially those in the GCC, have been focusing their efforts on the expansion of primary care facilities as well. They most often take the form of small, mobile, rural clinics and are usually staffed with trained community health workers rather than physicians.

These small centers also allow the GCC countries to provide in access to care for women, children, the elderly and other vulnerable populations.

Medical Tourism as an Industry

Different governments in the Middle East region are aware of the strong profit potential behind medical tourism and are committed to diversifying their respective economies using this industry. This is especially true in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Typically in these countries, many hospitals are becoming JCI accredited in an effort to become more attractive to international patients.

This trend is expected to increase in GCC countries and become more notable in other less affluent countries in the next few years.

What’s next?

Despite some of the obvious challenges within the Middle Eastern healthcare market, recent years have shown considerable progress in terms of infrastructure development and improved healthcare indicators.

Many of the governments in this region are committed to the strengthening and further developing the healthcare sector. To this end, they are forming alliances and partnerships with neighboring countries.

There is of course, still a long way to go in order to keep up with demand … creating many government aided opportunities for private investors…


For further quantitative information on the GCC country healthcare systems and the macroeconomic climate, please look into our Business intelligence platform or order the TforG Deep Dive report for KSA or UAE containing volumes of 620 surgical procedures in 13 specialisms.

About Ritza Suazo

Researches and creates Clinical Pathways and Country Deep Dive Reports at TforG. With almost a decade of experience in Clinical Market research she also manages and recruits the TforG advisory board. She graduated with a double major in psychology and international business management from Stony Brook University in New York and continues to apply her experience in research specializing in the US, UK, Spain and South American Markets.