Four trends that will shape the future of healthcare in the Middle East
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Four trends that will shape the future of healthcare in the Middle East

Four trends that will shape the future of healthcare in the Middle East

Regional healthcare infrastructure investments in the GCC are expected to reach $89bn by 2022

Kath Kerry GCI Health

Healthcare systems across the world continue to be under tremendous strain. The Covid-19 pandemic challenged even the most advanced systems, and with new variants such as the Delta Plus this continues to remain. The constant pressure on healthcare delivery underpins the need for an already-stretched healthcare sector to be consistently on the front-foot and to keep up the extraordinary work it delivers.

The primary driver in this ongoing transformation of healthcare is the need for trust across the entire spectrum: From decision-makers at the government level to hospitals and care providers, to pharmaceutical companies that are engaged in research and development, every stakeholder action is under intense scrutiny by the media and the public at large.

The excellent work that governments in the Arab world have done in response to the pandemic is a model in this regard. For example, the UAE was one of the first nations to ramp up its vaccination drive, and has delivered more than 16 million doses of the vaccine – in a country of 9.2 million people – topping vaccination rates in the world.

Saudi Arabia limited the Hajj pilgrimage to the Holy City of Makkah to just 60,000 people this year while Kuwait offers an “immunity passport”, an electronic vaccination certificate for those who have taken the second dose of the vaccine. The flexibility and adaptability displayed by many governments in the Middle East – and the public – is truly remarkable.

This is the result of their legacy spend in healthcare. It has been a priority sector for many governments, such as the UAE and Saudi, which made significant budgetary allocations for medical infrastructure development. They also invested in upskilling medical professionals and in strengthening local manufacturing capabilities.

I see four key trends emerging that are set to shape the healthcare sector of the region:

1. Expansion of operations by leading pharmaceutical companies in the region
One of the decisive trends in the region will be the expansion of operations of several leading pharmaceutical companies in the Middle East and Africa, who are looking at setting up regional headquarters. This builds on the demand for world-class healthcare services emerging but also the focus of regional governments to build their healthcare infrastructure with investments set to reach over $89bn by 2022 in the GCC. This will bring innovative treatments to address emerging medical needs, not just pandemic-related or lifestyle diseases and rare conditions.

2. The growth of medtech and localised research
The second key trend will be the continued growth of medtech companies and a focus on localised research and development in the region. This will be driven by governmental policy-making to develop self-sufficiency in healthcare, including new research to protect the communities from unprecedented healthcare challenges to building national-level drug manufacturing. A great example is the Emirati Genome Program, a ground-breaking initiative designed to sequence the complete genome of as many citizens as possible to support better prediction, prevention and treatment of genetic and chronic illnesses for current and future generations.

3. Transparency in communications
In this fast-changing environment, it is a strategic imperative for governments, healthcare providers, pharmaceutical and medical technology companies to build trust through transparency now more than ever. One way to do so is by adapting their communications model to the ever-changing series of ‘new normals’. The pandemic has affected public confidence and it is important that the efficient, timely and forward-thinking work of the region’s healthcare sector is communicated with conviction. Communities are seeking reassurance and every healthcare industry stakeholder has a role to play in rebuilding hope and confidence. This also calls for more authenticity in engaging with communities, underpinned by sensitivity and clarity to build trust among the public.

4. The pivot to digital
Further transforming the industry, consumers are turning to digital and social media platforms like never before to seek health advice and share experiences with others – especially those with chronic illnesses. It is important to focus on honest, transparent storytelling on digital platforms, given how in some instances they served as carriers of sometimes ill-informed news at the start of the pandemic. Healthcare professionals have also tuned in to these platforms to provide educational and scientific information to those seeking it as well as to learn through peer-to-peer interaction. Furthermore, social media has created a bridge between healthcare providers and the public in the Middle East – specially in medical tourism – to access treatment and service details.

Kath Kerry is president – Europe and Middle East of GCI Health

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