The increasing population growth and the consequently rising incidences of lifestyle diseases have put tensions on the healthcare systems in the Middle East and North Africa. Among them, Saudi Arabia is one of the countries with the highest healthcare expenditure as % of the GDP in the region, hence the country is facing significant pressures.
The life expectancy in Saudi Arabia has increased nearly 35 years over the past half-century, from an average of 42 in 1950 to 72 in 2014. The fast-growing life expectancy caused the country to face challenges for the healthcare system. Its aging population and the high number of per capita expenditures among the older age group has exposed Saudi Arabia to consider changes in their healthcare system.
Moreover, the rising sedentary life, unhealthy diets and high consumption of tobacco-caused many lifestyle-related diseases, that now represent a major issue in the country. In fact, Saudi Arabia has the highest incidence rate of diabetes among the MENA region, more than 6.9 million of its population is diabetic, and a 30% are reported to not be aware of having the disease.
The diabetic disease-account stands for nearly one-fourth of the total healthcare expenditure of the country. The cure costs US$ 800 on average per person, carrying a significant burden on the Kingdom's healthcare and financial resources. However, the government has started to invest in programs for disease prevention in order to contain related expenses.
Another big health issue that Saudi Arabia is facing is represented by tobacco. The country is the 4th largest importer of tobacco in the world. According to The Saudi Ministry of Health, 35% to 45 % of all adult males and 24% of preparatory school students in the country are tobacco smokers. Social, economic and health expenses related to tobacco account for US$ 1.3 billion.
In order to decrease tobacco consumption in the country, the government issued a series of smoking ban. Now, all forms of smoking are banned within the city limits of Saudi's two holy cities of Mecca and Medina, in government facilities and indoor public spaces. Surprisingly, despite its status of 4th largest tobacco importer, cancer incidence in the country is low compared to western countries. However, cancer-related spending is still high, reaching over USD 250,000 last year. The country is now trying to improve its overall healthcare system, enhancing its’ prevention programs along with the construction of well-integrated healthcare infrastructures.