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Report from: Middle East and North Africa
The Middle East and North Africa have been rocked in recent years by upheaval ranging from moderate protest to full-scale revolution, leading to a variety of changes in government with more changes to come. Medical products companies such as GE Healthcare, however, have described the region as a “hidden jewel,” citing rapid spending growth by the various government ministries, resulting in new and growing hospitals (1). On the pharmaceutical side, countries like Morocco have enacted legislation in the past decade to attract foreign investment in the country. While the Middle Eastern environment remains unsettled, the market for pharmaceutical products is still expected to grow in many countries across the region. Credit: Wajahat/Flickr Open/Getty Images (Doha, Qatar)
GE’s observation that rapid spending growth in the Middle East has made it a “hidden jewel” is not merely anecdotal. Qatar, for example, went from spending US$1561 per capita on healthcare in 2010 to US$1920 in 2011, and the Ministry of Health’s Primary Health Care Corporation has called for additional spending increases from now until 2022 (2). Qatar has also announced plans to introduce a form of social health insurance by 2016.
Other countries in the region, including those much poorer than Qatar, have also begun working on increasing access to health insurance. Morocco, for example, launched a program called Regime d’Assistance Medicale (RAMED) in 2012, offering economic assistance to pay for medical care to 8.5 million people (28% of the overall population) (3,4).
These two cases illustrate the vast difference in wealth across the region. The International Monetary Fund places the Gross Domestic Product based on purchasing power parity per capita for Morocco at US$5265 in 2012, compared to US$102,211 in Qatar (5,6). Still, the governments in both countries are working to improve access to care for their citizens.
In contrast, Jordan has served as a medical tourism destination for decades, but its healthcare system faces new challenges as a result of the Arab Spring. In 2010 and 2011, protests, government changes, and regional unrest led to declining medical tourist numbers (7). More recently, refugees from civil war-stricken Syria have overwhelmed the Jordanian healthcare system. Jafar Hassan, Jordan’s minister of planning and international cooperation, has expressed concern that resources in the country simply would not be enough to meet the needs of the 2000 Syrian refugees coming into the country every day (8). Jordan does serve as a major manufacturer of pharmaceuticals, exporting the majority of its drugs to other Arab countries (9).
Overall, according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) World Factbook, the population is growing in every Middle Eastern and North African country, and is generally younger than the emerging markets of Southeast Asia and Korea. Demand for healthcare products is growing as the population increases, but demographically, this region does not have the same health requirements as the aging populations characterizing many developed markets in 2013 (10).
Regulations vary considerably across the region. Turkey, for example, has introduced market exclusivity as part of its efforts to become a European Union (EU) member state and has introduced other reforms to bring greater consistency with the rest of the EU. Enforcement remains an issue, and the EU has rejected several of Turkey’s GMP certificates.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) has flagged Algeria and Lebanon as being particularly concerning for manufacturers. In a report to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, PhRMA called out these two countries as requiring review. In Algeria, PhRMA cites weak patent protection, government-mandated price referencing, and importation restrictions as barriers to market access. The lobbying group does note that it is encouraged by the Minister of Health’s announcement at a PhRMA meeting that the government would reduce the review time required for marketing authorization and increase intellectual property protection.
In Lebanon, PhRMA notes some regulatory reforms that have improved market access, but still argues that Lebanon needs to make further changes. In particular, the group cites ineffective data protection, the lack of a regulatory system to monitor and confirm bioequivalence studies, and the existence of a “grey market” for medicinal products (11).
Regionally, many countries (i.e., UAE, Qatar) are setting standards that provide state-of-the-art healthcare services, not only for the growing local population, but also for expatriate workers and patients seeking high quality medical care. In contrast, other countries in the region are struggling with overburdened government-run health systems and are turning to the private sector to provide much-needed investment and expertise (i.e., Kuwait).
In light of predictions that the region’s healthcare market is expected to continue growing over the next few years (compared to the low growth predicted in the mature markets of the US and Europe), the Middle East seems like a good place to turn to for investment.
Perhaps unique to the region is the social demand to make healthcare focused on serving the needs of the population rather than strictly profit making. Zakat, the Islamic principle of charity, is the driving force behind this perspective. Regional governments are interested in supervising and regulating the healthcare sector to ensure that private healthcare players fully understand, and embrace, this concept and preserve the existing culture.
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