Six major investment opportunities in the GCC’s health care market in 2016 have been predicted by EY as being areas of high demand and growth in the region. According to the EY ‘Investment Big Bets – Healthcare and Life Sciences in the GCC’ report launched recently to coincide with the annual Arab Health Exhibition & Congress, specialised centres of excellence (CoEs), home health care services, long-term and post-acute care rehabilitation (LTPAC), biotechnology, medical disposables manufacturing and primary care services are key trends in the region’s health care sector.
Amit Zushi, partner, EY, says: “The health care sector has been growing upwards of 10 per cent per annum across MENA, with significant potential for growth in quality care over the next few years. Mandatory insurance has been and will continue to be a big driver, particularly in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and parts of the UAE. Equally, many GCC governments are in the middle of overhauling their public health systems, paving the way for considerable further opportunity for the private sector to fill the capacity and quality gaps. Despite investment in recent years, demand for quality care continues to outpace supply as GCC countries continue to rank among the highest in the world on risk factors related to chronic lifestyle ailments such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular conditions and obesity. It is critical, now more than ever, to invest in the key areas that can accelerate the development of health care in the region. While the private sector is aiming high, the winners will focus on the right propositions, delivery models and partnerships. On the ground execution of patient-centric models will be the long-term differentiator.”
Demand for specialised centres of excellence
Demand for specialised centres of excellence (CoE) is growing rapidly as the burden of disease shifts from the public sector to the private sector. Most GCC public hospitals are functioning at over 80 per cent bed capacity, which is putting pressure on the private sector and specialised clinics to service more patients. A substantial number of patients are also seeking specialised treatment abroad, so developing more CoEs locally would help meet their unique needs and reduce the need to travel overseas for treatment. Developing more CoEs would also bring in more medical tourists as well as attracting and retaining highly qualified and experienced clinical talent in the GCC.
Home health care services are becoming an increasingly attractive investment opportunity as the aging population rises in the GCC. Ahmed Faiyaz, MENA healthcare transaction advisory services leader, EY, says: “By 2020, $3.5-4.8bn could potentially be spent on home health care services across the GCC. Significant growth is expected in the area of mobile health apps and home-based diagnostic and physiotherapy services.”
Need for LTPAC rehabilitation services
The provision of LTPAC rehabilitation services in the GCC is currently too small to meet the growing demand. In addition to the issue of limited availability of LTPAC dedicated facilities, GCC countries are facing issues with the existing locations where most LTPAC services are offered. Currently, the majority of patients who require LTPAC are cared for in an acute-care hospital occupying beds dedicated for acute cases, thus becoming bed blockers in public hospitals for extended periods of time. Approximately 20-30 per cent of GCC public hospital beds are currently being occupied by LTPAC patients.
“The current estimated bed gap for LTPAC patients in the GCC is between 2,000 and 2,400, with more than 50 per cent of the capacity gap existing in Saudi Arabia. While a few GCC governments have taken steps to invest in LTPAC services, more needs to be done to establish independent operations while integrating these services into public and private hospitals,” comments Ahmed.
Biopharmaceuticals, medical disposables
The GCC region has strong infrastructure in place for the creation of a sizable pharmaceutical manufacturing base. The development of dedicated biotechnology platforms and incubator programs such as Dubiotech in the UAE, Jeddah Biocity Park and Badir for biotechnology in Saudi Arabia, is creating a healthy ecosystem for biotechnology to grow.
The GCC medical disposables sector, while growing at a very fast rate, is mainly import driven. With only 7 per cent of total GCC medical disposables sales being contributed to by local production, and majority of medical disposables imported from Europe, there is a significant opportunity to manufacture medical disposables locally. Providing hospitals with ready-made disposable kits for different types of surgeries and medical services could help curb waste and create efficiencies in procurement.
Primary care services
Traditional primary health care facilities in the GCC have not evolved quickly enough to meet the rapidly growing demand from patients for enhanced services and treatment. Technology-enabled primary health care centres, such as those with advanced diagnostic capabilities for health screening, are in high demand. While the proportion of spending on primary care is expected to rise significantly and technology continues to help bridge the gap between traditional healthcare and existing service offerings, more investment is needed.
Ahmed concludes: “There are significant opportunities for GCC governments, regulators and health care bodies to develop the health care sector. Technology-enabled primary health care centres, such as those with advanced diagnostic capabilities for health screening that can help patients to detect and manage illnesses in a preventative manner, can help reduce overall healthcare spending. Reforms and initiatives will need to be introduced to create efficiencies in data and informatics related to unifying electronic health records, publishing clinical outcomes and rankings and enforcing licensing and accreditation programs”.
Without a doubt, more private sector participation is needed; developing public private partnerships will be key to creating high-quality healthcare capabilities and infrastructure. Together, these efforts will ultimately help create a robust and sustainable health care system across the GCC.