Saudi Arabia is the largest country in the Middle East, with more than 34 million people, and it is a country highly dependent on oil for income. The Ministry of Health (MOH) operates, controls and manages public health in Saudi Arabia. Here is some information about the challenges and efforts to privatize healthcare in Saudi Arabia.
Challenges in Healthcare in Saudi Arabia
The MOH is responsible for prevention and primary care and sponsors over 3,300 health centers in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia established the department nearly 100 years ago to provide free health services to its citizens. However, the MOH could not meet the population’s healthcare needs, which stimulated and motivated changes in the country’s healthcare systems.
Media reports claimed that the public health system in Saudi Arabia presented deficiencies in maintaining standards. Public health services were more difficult to maintain as public health spending rose due to the aging Saudi Arabian population and higher chronic disease rates.
The government’s challenge in sustaining proper public health services is primarily due to the reduced revenues from oil. But the government was keen on reforming the health sector to fulfill social demands in the country, which ultimately led to the privatization of public health systems. Privatization happens when a publicly-owned business or industry transfers to private ownership and control. In healthcare, privatization involves non-governmental individuals becoming engaged in financing and managing healthcare.
A study in Taif found that only 59% of patients who sought treatment at public healthcare facilities were satisfied in comparison to 77% satisfaction in the private sector.
The New Saudi Health System (NSHS)
The New Saudi Health System (NSHS) allowed local and foreign insurance companies to deal with expatriates and citizens in the private healthcare sector. Additionally, new legislation allowed private healthcare providers to enter the healthcare market. Private healthcare continued to grow after the government introduced interest-free loans to encourage the construction of private facilities. Foreign investment supported the transition, which reached $3.5 billion in 2018.
The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)
Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is a loan for a small business that needs help paying its workers. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank believe PPPs would improve health care services, and the Saudi Arabian government has drawn up a PPP law that aims to boost private healthcare.
Efforts to Privatize
Privatization intends to serve the needs of the rising population. Saudi Arabia will need 5,000 more beds by 2020 and 20,000 more beds by 2035, so the country hopes to privatize 295 hospitals and 2,259 healthcare facilities by 2030. With these changes, experts expect to see life expectancy increase to 78.4 for males and 81.3 for females by 2050. Leaders hope that privatization will reduce government healthcare spending and ultimately produce new funding for the MOH.
Privatization increases the motivation to provide efficient healthcare. Leaders in Saudi Arabia constructed Vision 2030, which is a framework and collection of long-term goals and expectations “to create a vibrant society in which all citizens can fulfill their dreams.” A key factor in the Vision 2030 blueprint is the privatization of healthcare in Saudi Arabia as it aims to improve the lives of those living in the country.
– Rachel Durling