Gulf Cooperation Council

Over the past several decades, countries in the GCC have made strides toward improving their health systems. For example, the Saudi Arabia Vision 2030 aims to improve the quality of health care and facilities while increasing the share of contributions from the private sector and foreign investors, and the UAE aims to be a global hub for international pharmaceutical companies by 2021.

However, countries in the GCC have among the highest prevalence of non-communicable diseases like diabetes in the world. With these numbers on the rise, delays in regulatory approval of new medicines mean patients must wait longer for the latest treatments and cures.

As the GCC continues to see significant economic and population growth, countries in this region will need to navigate how to keep up with a growing demand for quality health care. This may include greater investment in clinical research, more robust intellectual property protection and enforcement to attract foreign investment and a reduction in bureaucratic delays to improve health outcomes and provide economic benefits to the region.

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Key Indicators

Investing in Health

Many MENA governments spend less than 2.5 percent of GDP on health. While the GCC spends about 3.8 percent of its GDP on health, increasing health spending to at least 6 percent could expand coverage for medicines, including innovative treatments, and improve life expectancy.

Building the Health Care Workforce

Nearly all countries in the GCC exceed the global average number of doctors per 1,000 population (1.5). According to the World Health Organization, the figures range from nearly 4 in Qatar to more than 2 in Saudi Arabia, to less than 1 in Iraq.

The Arab world is characterized by a disproportionately large and young population, with 60 percent under the age of 30 according to the International Monetary Fund. As this demographic ages, there will be an even greater need for health care services and professionals to care for them.

The time is now to train the next generation of health care workers.

Attracting Innovation & Investment

Relative to the size of the region, GCC countries have attracted a limited number of clinical trials and lag behind other MENA economies. For example, Saudi Arabia hosted only 1.6 trials per million population between 2000 and 2017, while Kuwait and the UAE hosted just more than 2 trials per million population. There is a growing interest in global pharmaceutical companies investing in the GCC; however, legal, regulatory and market access risks persist and must be addressed.

Speeding Quality Treatments to Market

The regulatory environment in MENA is maturing, with average registration timelines (less than one year from local submission) improving in Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait. However, delays for new medicines still persist, which can slow access to existing treatments and cures.

Reducing bureaucratic delays is essential to combatting the rising incidence of NCDs, such as cardiovascular conditions, diabetes and cancer.

Providing Access to Innovation

In order to achieve their health care innovation objectives, GCC states will need to continue to invest in, and experiment with, their health care models so they can move further toward a state-of-the-art, patient-centered health system.


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Opportunities for Progress

Explore policy-related opportunities for governments, health officials and companies operating in the MENA health sector.

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