The discovery of oil has brought immense wealth and transformed Saudi Arabia from an arid desert into the largest Arab economy.
But it also has its disadvantages as it has brought about diseases that were quite uncommon to the desert people, mainly blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.
A new study issued by the Gulf Kingdom’s largest bank, obtained by Emirates 24/7, found that such diseases are increasing at an alarming rate and that more than 70 per cent of the Saudis are now overweight.
“Non-communicable diseases (NCDs)–known as lifestyle diseases–are increasing at an alarming rate in Saudi Arabia as a result of increasing prosperity and the socio-economic transformation,” National Commercial Bank (NCB) said.
“The epidemiological profile of the Kingdom includes high incidences of obesity, hypertension and diabetes mellitus, particularly Type-2. The latter has been the leading cause of cardiovascular disease, kidney failures and amputations. The complications caused by these diseases will increase long-term costs, further burdening an already over-stretched healthcare system.”
The study cited results of a survey released by the Saudi Diabetes and Endocrine Association (SDEA) in 2010 showing that over 70 per cent of the Saudi population is alarmingly obese.
The World Health Organization also determined that both men’s and women’s estimated mean Body Mass Index (BMI) in the Kingdom scored 26.6 kg/m2 and 28 kg/m2, respectively in 2010, NCB said.
A BMI score above 25 kg/m2 is indicative of an overweight populace and that above 30 kg/m2 denotes obesity, it added.
In 2009, about 6.2 per cent of total visits to government health centers in Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, were related to diabetes.
Of this segment, 45 per cent of visits came from patients in the 45–60 age group, with patients from ages 15+ accounting for 96 per cent of these visits, NCB said.
“Saudis accounted for 97 per cent of these total visits. This figure omits all other diabetes related complications such as cardiovascular diseases.”
The report showed that emergency cases related to diabetes were equivalent to 484,239 or three per cent of the total of emergency cases reported in 2009.
“Of significance, again, is that 93 per cent of these diabetes emergency cases were reported by Saudi nationals. Although these measures are restricted to Ministry of Health hospitals, which cater mainly to Saudi nationals, they still serve to highlight this inherent national problem,” it said.
“The economic burden associated with the disabilities and loss of life caused by diabetes will escalate, should the lifestyle not adjust.”
In its 10-page study on Saudi Arabia’s health sector, NCB noted that the rapid population growth is the main driver of healthcare demand in the Kingdom.
The most recent census taken in mid 2010 established that the Kingdom’s population stood at 27.1 million, having grown at an inter-census Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of nearly 3.15 per cent since 2004, it said.
“The Kingdom will continue to witness a high rate of population growth across all age groups, due in part to those entering marriageable age (20-29 years). In addition, the number of Saudis past retirement age (60+ years) will also grow, as Saudis live longer lives,” the study said.
The report cited international data showing that in 2008, Saudis had a life expectancy of 73 years at birth. It said this represented an overall increase of nine and three per cent from 1988 and 1998, respectively.
Additionally, according to the Geneva-based WHO, around 76 per cent of Saudi males and 84 per cent of Saudi females had a survival rate to age 65, further indicative of a growing elderly society on an improved healthcare system.
The repot showed there was a nine per cent increase in capital expenditures on health care in 2009, amounting to SR2.8 billion, which is in line with the government’s continuous initiative and 2010 budgeted plan to increase the number of primary health care centers and hospitals in the Kingdom.
“In the Kingdom’s latest five year Development Plan (2009–2014), social development and healthcare is poised to command a 19 per cent share of total budgeted expenditure, equivalent to SR273.9 billion,” it said.
It cited official data showing that financial allocations for the healthcare segment alone commands 89 per cent of this total, corresponding to SR242.7 billion.
Additionally, approved MoH health projects for 2011 include Kingdom-wide developments of more than 3,500 beds in hospitals of various disciplines.
The report expected a steady rise in health care spending because of the rapid increase in the population, which it expected to reach 31.69 million in 2015.
It said the growth rate for Saudi nationals would continue to rise, while the proportion of expatriates would increase at a decelerating rate, thereby slightly decreasing relative to previous influxes spurred by economic booms.
“The significance of this demographic shift is that Saudis have developed a predisposition to life-style diseases that will translate into an expensive medical profile requiring complex treatments over the long-term. This will increase demand for enhancing medical facilities.”
“Over the next five years, the Kingdom will continue to face pressures on its healthcare delivery system. With a high population growth rate, longer life expectancy, and an increase in the incidence of NCDs, the health market will rely on private sector participation to shoulder increasing demand……
“With saturated capacity, long queues, and limited opening hours at public hospitals, the efficiency and higher quality in private care by comparison have propelled private investment in the sector…. by 2015, we anticipate that the growth in compulsory private insurance will also increase demand on private investment in the healthcare sector.”
Going forward, the rising demand for hospitals and beds will require the Kingdom to invest an estimated total of SR23.3 billion between 2010 and 2015, NCB said.
An increment of 23,290 beds in both the public and private sectors will put the Kingdom at a feasible ratio of 2.5 hospital beds per 1,000 population, just below the current global aver-age ratio of 2.7, it added.
“Challenges facing the health care sector include the highly capital-intensive nature of the industry acting as a barrier to entry, the lack of domestic talent and large reliance on foreign labor, and the rising cost of medical care restricting margins.
Other risks constricting project funding from banks include asset-liability mismatch, operational in-adequacies of contractors, and the inability to foreclose on hospitals in the event of defaults.”