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Booming Healthcare sector in MENA: Lucrative opportunity for Global pharma players

Healthcare scenario in MENA region

The Middle-East and North-Africa region (MENA), which encompasses some of the world’s wealthiest economies, extends unparalleled opportunities to multinational corporations with expertise in medical devices. There is a conspicuous disparity in the economic prowess across the countries, but most of them have shown robust growth owing to their strategic advantage. With a growing population of 400 million―projections show that MENA will be home to nearly 700 million people by 2020—an increase in GDP per capita income, improved literacy, and a sizable middle class are the strong drivers fueling the growth of multi-diverse markets in the MENA region. Healthcare is one such emerging market, which has shown significant growth, particularly in the GCC region. 

Talking about the health of the people in the MENA, people mostly here are afflicted with lifestyle diseases that are metabolic in nature such as Cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia and obesity.  A 2009 study by the International Diabetes Federation, the UAE was observed to be the second-highest diabetes prevalence of around 20%, followed by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Kuwait. 

The major factors attributing to a soaring prevalence of these non-communicable diseases are sedentary lifestyle, excess intake of sugar and inclination towards high-calorie diet. Hot and dry weather can be held responsible for limited physical activities. As a consequence of the growing population, and near epidemic obesity in countries of MENA, there is increased reliability of people on Medical devices for diagnosis and monitoring such diseases. Despite the financial disparity in some of the countries, overall MENA region has received a positive response from its citizens for the use of medical devices. MENA region has witnessed a significant rise in growth in the demand for intricate pharmaceutical and medical products, and the trend is likely to continue in the coming years. 

Since UAE has been one of the top exporters for Instruments and appliances used in medical, surgical, dental or veterinary sciences, it is not wrong to say that the country will act as a predominant base for multinational medical devices, attracting different companies to set up their regional subsidiaries or headquarters. Moreover, approximately 18 companies named Medtronic, Johnson & Johnson, Siemens, Roche, Becton Dickinson, Abbott Laboratories, Novartis, Olympus Corporation, General Electric, Biomerica, Baxter International, etc., have MENA as their distribution base. On the other hand, companies like Turkish Alvimedica, Israel’s Itamar Medical, Saudi Arabia’s Saudi Pharmaceutical Industries & Medical Appliances Corporation (SPIMACO), Alshifa Medical Syringes Manufacturing Co. and Jamjoon Hospital Supply (JHS) are regularly contributing towards the local market by producing affordable and consumable products.

The pattern is self-emergent; the public expenditure on healthcare as part of the GDP, in the GCC region, still lags in comparison to the developed nations by a considerable margin, which in turn, makes the GCC governments heavily rely on private players to ease the burden of rising healthcare costs and meet the growing demand of health services. To assist the move toward privatization, the GCC governments have issued mandatory health insurance that will steer a surge in private sector’s stake in health care infrastructure. Subsequently, the creation of various healthcare clusters by major private players will usher a growth in need of medical devices to assist the rise in quality of healthcare across the region.

The prevalent diseases, in the region, act as drivers to shape the present and future trends in the market for medical devices. The disease states implicit to the Arab peninsula is driven by a few prevailing factors, such as increased personal affluence, which has been associated with an heightened predominance in, lifestyle diseases― ischemic heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and obesity—high rate of road traffic accidents, Musculoskeletal disorders, and widespread consanguinity―giving rise to genetically recessive disorders. The accelerated growth in the medical devices and diagnostics market, owing to the rise in prevalence of such diseases in a growing population, is set to entail investors to make prudent investments to fill the gaps in the supply-demand of such devices in the emerging healthcare market.

The acquisition of Al Salama Hospital, Jadwa’s investment in UEMSA, Amanat’s minority acquisition of IMC, and recent interest of Dallah Health & Ashmore is the testament to the future of things and a reflection of private investor interest in the healthcare sector in the MENA region. In 2017 report from JLL Middle East and North Africa (MENA), it was stated by Mr Gaurav Shivpuri (JLL Head of Capital Markets in MENA) that 

With increasing pressures on the MENA healthcare system over the next five years and a rise in PPPs, investors can consider healthcare real estate investment as an attractive diversification strategy with foreseeable long-term gains.

The healthcare sector is invariably dynamic; disruptive technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), and Blockchain have entirely revolutionized the healthcare industry. For example, a UAE startup Quanterium Blockchain Solution is one of the principal innovators who are using AI and Big Data, robotics as well as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), with solutions such as 3D diagnostics, patient records, and other healthcare management platforms.

Evidently, the Middle Eastern markets are a hotbed for foreign investors as it brings immense opportunities to satiate a rise in demand in the state-of-the-art pharmaceutical and medical devices. As each member state has a different regulatory environment for medical devices, to diversify their business, investors need to remain adaptive by orienting themselves with the various regulatory protocols, licensing rules, reimbursement systems, and negotiation techniques.

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