One of the beats I’ve dived into here is the business of health care both in the Gulf and MENA as a whole. The GCC, in particular, is investing billions creating “Health Care Cities” in Saudi, Dubai and other emirates. The Gulf even wants a piece of the medical tourism pie, though I’m not sure how they can compete with established centers such as Singapore, Thailand, and, even, India.
The investment activity is a good thing for the world’s construction companies, which have seen business dry up here since the real estate market took a dive nearly two years ago. The money is largely coming from the governments’ oil-rich sovereign wealth funds, so that makes financing a bit easier – no banks needed!
Some of this buildup, an investment of about $14 billion, is , which is largely the first real build up of a medical infrastructure in these countries’ histories. Even just a few years ago, residents opted to go overseas – usually back to the West – to get treatment if they had the option. This is the case even for Khaleejis (Gulf nationals) themselves. Emiratis alone spend $25 billion a year abroad for medical care.
And the demand is growing. Unlike their forebears who led a hard, nomadic existence, today’s Gulf is cushioned by oil wealth. This sedentary culture, along with a lack of exercise and a predisposition for fast food, means the region has one of the world’s highest rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other “lifestyle” ailments. In Abu Dhabi, nearly a third of Emiratis are overweight and one in four shows evidence of having diabetes.
Still, not everyone agrees that the massive build up of more and more hospital beds is the cure for what ails the Gulf, economically speaking, anyway.
In the September issue of The Executive magazine, I have written a big takeout on the supply and demand of health care in MENA – and who’s hoping to make money from it.