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Health care quality in the Middle East: UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar and more

We all want access to good health care.

Whether it’s for preventative measures such as immunisation or preventing the onset of disease, the management of on-going conditions, or treatment in the event of critical illness or medical emergency, everyone wants the reassurance that their mental and physical well-being is in safe hands. This is why many employers invest in health insurance for the hundreds of employees on international assignments in Middle East.

Health care in the Middle East

With rapidly growing economies linked to oil, tourism and the financial industry, countries in this area have a large population of expats from all around the world. State-of-the-art new hospital complexes and hi-tech equipment, along with plenty of well-qualified staff, cater for the rising prospects of national citizens. Very often, universal care is available but medical insurance is usually necessary. Key details for expats in any given country are below.

UAE

In the World Health Organization’s (WHO) World Health Report issued in 2000, the UAE ranked 27 in the world for its performance. The United Arab Emirates’ health care system has a good ratio of doctors (2.5 per 1000 population) and is financed by a healthy $1600 per capita per year. Well-equipped and well-staffed for a relatively small population, there are around 70 hospitals and 150 clinics, making up a competent health care infrastructure.

Employing personnel trained in Europe, India, Pakistan, Middle Eastern countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, the U.S. and around the world, the pool of medical staff in the region speaks a wide variety of languages. Residents of the UAE are entitled to free basic care in local hospitals through a Health Card scheme but, as the government moves towards a more privately funded way of working and, to obtain a more comprehensive level of cover, private medical insurance is essential for foreign nationals in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Saudi Arabia

With a network over 2,000 health care centres and 200 hospitals, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a good health care system, with standards equal to those often found in other developed countries across the world. Much of the high-tech equipment is imported, as are many of the staff, so most foreign nationals don’t find a language barrier. Despite the area being considered a centre for medical excellence, people with complex needs or requiring specialist surgery for cancer, for example, still choose to be treated elsewhere in the world — London is popular.

Since 2002, it’s been compulsory for foreign nationals to have health insurance, very often arranged by their employer. There’s a good ratio of doctors with 2.4 per 1000 population (the UK has 2.8) and the country spends 4.7% of its total GDP on health care, around the same as India.

Egypt

For those travelling to Egypt, it can be a good idea to seek treatment in the major cities and tourist resorts, like Sharm el Sheikh, as hospitals outside these areas can be very basic. The country has built the bones of a public health care system but many people, including the locals, prefer to use the private health care system. In order to receive a good, consistent level of care, most foreign nationals and wealthier citizens choose to be treated in Dubai or the UAE. Comprehensive private medical insurance that covers treatment in the wider region is available to cover such treatment.

Many hospitals ask for payment upfront, rather than processing invoices and payments directly with a medical insurance company. Accessing treatment in a facility within an insurance company’s network will help to keep your out-of-pocket expenses low. The country spends 5.6% of its GDP on health care, which is at the lower end of the worldwide scale, similar to Turkey, and there are 2.8 doctors to every 1,000 inhabitants — roughly the same as the UK. For overall effectiveness, Egypt sits at number 63 of the WHO’s league table of countries.

Qatar

Rated as 44th in the world by the World Health Organization for performance, Qatar maintains a hi-tech, well-funded and well-staffed health care system. With over 7 doctors per 1,000 population, it has one of the highest ratios in the world. Most doctors have been employed from abroad, so finding personnel that speak your language, from English to Hindi, shouldn’t be a problem.

The government provides a basic level of care to all residents through its health card scheme but it is also compulsory for expats to have private medical insurance in place. Some expats arrange this themselves but it’s common for this to be included in the terms of an employment contract.

Bahrain

Following the discovery of oil in the 1930s, the economy of this gulf archipelago has grown rapidly — particularly in recent years. An influx of non-nationals (about 25% of the population) has put considerable strain on the health care system and, after a number of years of investment, the infrastructure is catching up with demand. Along with three major, well-regarded private hospitals and four state run hospitals, there are a number of smaller regional and maternity centres. The country is striving to become a centre of excellence, developing a number of pharmaceutical and medical research facilities. Despite this, it might be worthwhile ensuring your insurance cover includes evacuation to other medical centres in nearby states, in case specialist treatment isn’t available.

Foreign nationals have access to the universal health care provision but there may be some co-payment required and, in any case, private health care insurance is compulsory. One of the oldest health care systems in the region and home to the oldest major hospital, Bahrain has a ratio of one doctor to 1,000 inhabitants and many of these medical professionals are expats themselves, speaking a range of languages. Spending on health care is 5% of the GDP, which has risen in recent years and the effectiveness of the country’s health care system puts it in 42nd in the WHO’s global league table of countries.

Oman

The current Sultan has made the health care sector a priority, with a focus on making sure Omani citizens have access to basic health care and expatriates have access to subsidised services — both of an excellent standard. There are now 70 well-regarded hospitals and a network of other providers across the country and, while there are still many expat health professions working in the industry, Oman has made moves in recent years to develop its home-grown talent.

Of interest to foreign nationals is the vast investment being put into medical tourism facilities, such as the International Medical City in Salalah, and the hospital and accommodation complex planned for Seeb. Life expectancy has risen from 49.3 years to 76 in just 50 years and the country has a healthy 2.5 doctors per 1,000 inhabitants, which puts it in line with other places in the world such as the U.S. and Japan. It’s no surprise that Oman is near the top of the WHO’s league table of countries, occupying 8th place. For those seeking to move to Oman to live and work, the advice from the UK Government’s website is to have comprehensive private medical insurance in place to cover medical care and repatriation (ensuring your mortal remains are transported to your home country in the event of death), as those without means to settle any medical bills accrued in the country may be prevented from leaving until they’re paid.

Kuwait

As part of an on-going development program, the focus of the Kuwaiti public health care system has changed in recent years. With a fall in oil prices putting a squeeze on the public purse, there’s been a move to reduce the number of nationals having to travel for treatment to places like London, for lifestyle related illnesses such as diabetes and cancer. The country has been working to combat this outflow of residents with health care needs by developing better public health schemes that aim to educate and promote preventative screening, as well as putting investment into better facilities for treating these conditions at home. The result is that the infrastructure has improved significantly as a whole. A move to enable Kuwaiti nationals to access public hospitals before expatriates means that foreign nationals may have restricted access to facilities at certain times. The health care system continues to evolve, with some calling for a segregation of facilities between nationals and the two-thirds of the population who have come in from abroad.

Both public and private facilities are well regarded, and although foreigners can access the public system, they are required to pay a yearly subscription. This doesn’t cover all treatment and tests, so comprehensive private medical insurance is worth investigating. Kuwait spends just 3% of the value of its GDP on health care but there are nearly 2 doctors per 1,000 people. The performance of the health care system puts it at position 45 of the WHO’s health care league table, shortly behind New Zealand and Qatar.

If you’re moving overseas

If you’re planning to move or travel overseas and need more information on private health care insurance for a specific country, get in touch with one of our expert sales consultants today.

For anyone considering a move to another country to live and work, it’s sensible to do some detailed research on the health care system.
You will need to find out:

  • Where are the best hospitals?
  • What access do foreign nationals have to universal health care?
  • What standard of facilities and personnel are available?

And what about private medical insurance? In most cases in the Middle East, it will be compulsory to secure private medical cover but, in order to ensure your health and safety, what level of cover will you need? Consider whether you might need:

  • Access to a general practitioner (GP, also known as a family doctor)
  • Inpatient (for treatment that requires you to be admitted to hospital) and outpatient care (treatment that doesn’t require hospital admission)
  • Specialist treatment for on-going care and emergency health care provision
  • Evacuation or repatriation if the treatment you need isn’t available locally

Are you looking for expat insurance? Click here to get a quote.

If you’re an employer or broker looking for international Private Medical insurance for clients or staff, you can call us to discuss your needs. Get the right telephone number for your area, here.

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