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GCC healthcare growth on track to return to pre-Covid levels

Issac John /Dubai
issacjohn@khaleejtimes.com Filed on April 4, 2021
The pre-Covid healthcare market in the GCC was estimated to be worth $70 billion, and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of five per cent. — File phoro

The strength of rebound suggests that healthcare growth is on track to return to pre-Covid levels — between 2010 and 2020—when the region had the highest healthcare infrastructure investments with a major increase in the number of hospitals and beds


The GCC hospital revenues are predicted to grow by 5.8 per cent in 2021 with the healthcare sector poised for a strong growth on the back of a surge in medical devices, a growing branded generics market and increased investment in infrastructure and innovation.

According to a report from Mashreq, one of the leading financial institutions in the UAE, and the research firm Frost & Sullivan, the strength of rebound suggests that healthcare growth is on track to return to pre-Covid levels — between 2010 and 2020—when the region had the highest healthcare infrastructure investments with a major increase in the number of hospitals and beds.

“Hospital revenues heavily impacted by a Covid-induced drop in outpatient visits and elective surgery volumes are forecast to bounce back strongly in Q1 and Q2 2021 in most GCC countries,” said the report.

According to industry experts at the Arab Health 2020, the pre-Covid healthcare market in the GCC was estimated to be worth $70 billion, and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of five per cent.

The report noted that the number of hospitals almost doubled in most countries, and at least 80 per cent of the hospitals and primary care clinics built in the GCC were driven by government initiatives and expansion plans.

Karim Amer, head of Healthcare and Education, Mashreq Bank, said the GCC healthcare sector is on the cusp of a promising recovery, with clear evidence of growth in domestic drug manufacturing to bring down the portion of imported medicines, and the enormous scope for technological investment – particularly in AI, analytics, electronic health records and robotics.

“For investors and innovators within the healthcare ecosystem, the Gulf is unquestionably full of opportunity. Increasingly digital opportunities are driving new trends — for example, soaring demand for e-commerce services will most likely result in a doubling of e-commerce providers by 2030. This shift to digital health will only continue to emerge in prominence moving forward," said Amer.

However, the challenges the region’s healthcare sector is facing include a dependency on imports of drugs and medical devices, which significantly hampered healthcare spending last year.

While in the US 70 per cent of drugs in use are generics, it is only 30 per cent in the GCC. Additionally, healthcare digitization is still limited in the region, with most applications still at a pilot stage. Private sector expenditure has also been less than 12-30 per cent across GCC countries, placing a significant burden on the public healthcare system.

The UAE is expected to move towards greater self-reliance on domestically manufactured pharmaceuticals in 2021 and beyond. The nation imports products from about 72 countries, but 10 countries account for 80 per cent of the supply. There were around 18 UAE-based companies in 2017, with this number expected to increase to 30 by 2021.

In the GCC, pharmaceutical manufacturing is expected to become an $8 billion to $10 billion market in the GCC in the next few years; and about 25 per cent of multinational manufacturers have already initiated discussions with local companies to collaborate and develop drugs in the region.

According to the report, digital infrastructure will be high on the agenda of both the public and private sectors, and virtual care, remote patient monitoring, and artificial intelligence (AI) are likely to account for 30 per cent of hospital investments from 2023 to 2030.

"While the UAE focuses on domestic pharmaceutical manufacturing and innovation, Saudi Arabia will spend big on nationwide infrastructure, and Bahrain will seek to attract large numbers of medical personnel to meet its growing demand for high-quality medical services. Like all GCC countries, Bahrain is very likely to see its medical devices market increase by 25 per cent to 30 per cent in 2021 as the number of elective surgical procedures increases," said Amer.

— issacjohn@khaleejtimes.com

author

Issac John

Editorial Director of Khaleej Times, is a well-connected Indian journalist and an economic and financial commentator. He has been in the UAE's mainstream journalism for 35 years, including 23 years with Khaleej Times. A post-graduate in English and graduate in economics, he has won over two dozen awards. Acclaimed for his authentic and insightful analysis of global and regional businesses and economic trends, he is respected for his astute understanding of the local business scene.





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