Inside Middle East healthcare structure, facts, statistics, and why people seek medical treatment abroad.
Last updated date: 02-Mar-2022
7 mins read
About Middle East
Middle East is geographically a transcontinental area which includes countries from the Northern Africa, such as Egypt and Libya and countries from Western Asia, such as Israel, Palestine, U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Yemen, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Lebanon, Oman and Turkey.
The Middle East region is home to more than 400 million people. The countries with the largest populations in the region are Iran, almost 82 million people, Turkey 79 million people, Iraq 37 million people, Saudi Arabia around 28 million people and Yemen 27 million people. The countries with smallest populations in the region are Bahrain 1.3 million people, Qatar 2.2 million people, Kuwait 2.8 million people, Oman 3.2 million people and Lebanon 6.2 million people.
Some of the Middle East countries are economically world leaders such as, Qatar, Israel or U.A.E., while other countries are known for poverty and being warzones, such as Iraq or Syria.
The Middle East is home to various populations and a wide variety of cultures, history and socioeconomic backgrounds. Therefore, each country’s approach to health management and healthcare access differs resulting in uneven levels of healthiness among the region.
Healthcare in the Middle East countries
The strong dichotomy between the various environments across the Middle East have led patients to travel around the region for medical purposes, as some of these nations’ healthcare systems are encountering difficult situations, such as Libya’s, Egypt’s, Syria’s, Iraq’s, while others’ healthcare systems, such as U.A.E.’s, Iran’s, Israel’s and Turkey’s are well funded and managed and have become very important medical centres, being visited by patients from the whole region and all around the Globe, too.
Iraq’s healthcare structure has been also one of the most prestigious healthcare systems across the Middle East during the 1970s. But due to terrorism and war, the budget for the medical system has been cut by 90%, while after the fall of Saddam Hussein, more than 15.000 Iraqi doctors have left the country for good, in search for better and more stable countries. In 2016, there were less than 30 cardiac surgeons left in Iraq.
Public statements of Iraqi health officials show that more than 40% of the medicines are smuggled from countries such as Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, India or China. These smuggled medicines are both counterfeit and substandard drugs, but also generics and branded products that comply with the applicable legislation.
Egypt’s healthcare structure is a combination of both public and private health systems. The Egyptian Government has created a subsidized healthcare system that aims to ensure health care for those who cannot afford it. As the quality of the private health system is superior to the public health system’s, the private healthcare services are the first choice among Egyptians, even among the lowest income groups.
Syria’s healthcare structure is very affected by the ongoing civil war, as more than half of the hospitals have been deteriorated or destroyed and due to lack of spare parts, the medical equipments maintenance has not been properly done. Moreover, due to political sanctions, the Syrian healthcare system also faces shortages of drugs and other medical supplies.
The public healthcare in Saudi Arabia is currently provided free of charge to all Saudi citizens and expatriates working in the public sector. The government requires expatriates working in the private sectors to have healthcare coverage paid by their employers. As there is a low level of private insurance in Saudi Arabia, almost all of the private expenditures have been out-of-pocket payments for services in private hospitals and clinics. The Ministry of Health is the largest provider of healthcare services in the Saudi Arabia, covering over 62% of inpatient care, while the private healthcare facilities are covering only 37% of the medical services. Back in 2006, 78.7% of the doctors and 76% of the physicians and nurses working in Saudi Arabia were foreigners.
Apart from other countries healthcare structures, Saudi Arabia’s government provides free health services to pilgrims through the Ministry of Health (MOH) facilities. Also, one of the best Middle East’s cancer treatment centres is located in Jordan.
On the other hand, Turkey is concerned about healthcare services that people get within its borders. The healthcare structure is well developed, it consists of both public and private healthcare systems. Turkey is a very popular destination for medical tourists from the Middle East and other parts of the world, as the healthcare services provided here are of high quality and affordable. During 2018, Turkey has been visited by about 178.000 international patients in need for medical treatments. 67% of these have preferred the private hospitals services, 24% have obtained medical care from the public hospitals, while 9% got medical care from University owned hospitals.
Iran’s Healthcare structure is based on three pillars, the public medical system, the private medical system and the NGOs. Around 90% of Iranians have medical insurance, which covers 90% of the medical services provided in hospitals and 70% of the costs of drugs. Iran has a really well educated and experienced medical staff. Medical specialists are highly professional and endorsed by a qualified nursing system. Iran also has a really active team of medical researchers.
Over 96% of the pharmaceutical products from Iran’s market are manufactured locally, using up to 90% Iranian raw materials. According to Bloomberg, in 2016, Iran’s healthcare system was ranked 30th most efficient worldwide.
The healthcare quality offered in Jordan is very high. The country was ranked by the World Bank data as the first healthcare services provider in the Middle East region and within the top five in the world. The healthcare structure in Jordan consists of both public and private systems.
Qatar’s healthcare system consists of the public health system only and it is one of the most effective healthcare systems in the Middle East. It is ranked on the 13rd place throughout the world’s best healthcare systems and is one of the top healthcare services providers in the Middle East, with approximately 7 doctors per 1,000 people, which is one of the highest doctors per patients ratios in the world.
After several years of investments, Kuwait's healthcare system strives to become a centre of excellence in medical services, medical research and pharmaceutics. Consisting of only three major, private hospitals and four state owned hospitals, Bahrain has a ratio of one doctor to 1,000 inhabitants and most of these medical professionals are foreigners.
In 2020, U.A.E. 's healthcare ranked 22nd in the World Index of Healthcare Innovation. U.A.E.‘s healthcare system is one of the most popular ones in the Middle East region competing with Turkey, Israel and Jordan. Annually, it attracts medical tourists from the region and from the rest of the world as the quality of the medical services provided is very high and the prices are affordable. U.A.E. is known for top medical services in the areas of cosmetic surgery, cancer treatments, ophthalmology and dental treatments.
Why do people from the Middle East seek treatments abroad?
The Middle East is a very interesting part of the world. In various countries within the region, there are wars going on for years, now, such as in Yemen, where the healthcare system is struggling to offer at least a minimum for its citizen, while in other countries of the region is an evolving prosperity that leads to healthcare systems such as of U.A.E.’s, Israel’s, Turkey’s, Qatar’s or Jordan’s.
Due to inequalities throughout the healthcare systems and limited access to them around the Middle East regions, patients in need of medical attention tend to travel and spend more money on medical services provided abroad, which are usually offering a higher quality.
Also, the reasons for the medical treatments abroad are also related to the patient's own needs. Depending on the medical services that a patient needs, he/she can filter the destinations, in order to find the best medical services he/she needs. For example, an Egyptian that needs a hair transplant, would, most probably choose to travel to Turkey, in order to have it done. An Iraqi needing cancer treatment would probably choose to travel to Israel or U.A.E. A Jordanian patient needing cosmetic surgery would probably have to choose to travel between the U.A.E. or Turkey.
Usually, the factors that patients take in consideration when choosing to travel abroad for medical services, are the quality of the services provided by different countries, the success rates that each country has for different treatments and procedures and the costs related to these voyages.