Wealthy Arabs Heading Overseas for Medical Treatment

Luke Cloherty


High wealth and good health are, of course, two objectives most human beings look to attain and maintain during the course of their lives. Indeed, the two are generally linked to each other, with life expectancies far higher in parts of the World where more money is more readily available. As concerns over one’s wealth decrease, concerns over one’s health generally increase, by virtue of our innate survival instinct. So, when some of the World’s wealthiest people look to further their lifespans, rather obviously they look to places where health treatment is most renowned.

Wealthy Arabs are travelling overseas for healthcare treatment more and more and the cities they travel to for that treatment are, in the aforementioned vein, also generally the cities they tend to invest their wealth into. London, for instance, has a booming GBP 1.5 billion private hospital market (source: Financial Times) that has grown by about 9% since 2006 (Source: LaingBuisson).

In the wake of the Arab Spring many Arab states increased healthcare expenditure, with the GCC countries by far and away investing the most. Many governments in the Middle East have decided that if treatment is not readily available on their shores they will pay for citizens to receive treatment abroad, particularly in London, while also allowing for generous accommodation packages while the patient undergoes treatment. Such has been the influx that many of London’s premier private hospitals now have signs written in Arabic as well as English and include Mosques and Prayer Rooms available to Arabic patients. “The Gulf states have the latest facilities but do not have the volume of patients to develop specialist expertise in rare and complex conditions” Mohamed Khomsi, international relations manager at the Portland Hospital, London told the Financial Times.

Equally, wealthy GCC citizens themselves are individually looking beyond their home countries for serious treatment. A poll conducted by research company Gallup found that GCC nationals are more likely than others in the Middle East to look abroad than receive serious treatment at home (Source: www.arabianbusinessweek.com), with Kuwaitis the most likely – 65% of Kuwaitis polled said they would rather look abroad. Just over one third of UAE nationals (39%) said they would travel abroad for serious treatment compared to 47% in Bahrain and 43% in Qatar and Oman.

The scope for the whole Middle East region, however, for future overseas treatment endeavours is seemingly vary large. GCC nationals, although the most likely to look abroad for serious treatment in the region, are also the most happy with healthcare services in their home countries, thus underlining the health-wealth paradigm outlined above. When wealthy nationals of other countries within the Middle East region – of which there are fewer – need to seek serious treatment, the current evidence would suggest they’ll be looking abroad, probably to London, but also to other hubs of Arabic investment with high quality private health sectors such as Switzerland, France and the US.

The trappings of wealth are affecting health in the GCC region somewhat, forcing this movement. On the list of the World’s top ten fattest nations, four GCC countries are currently ranked, with Kuwait currently second in the World only to the USA, which may well explain that huge governmental investment in health and sending citizens abroad for treatment.

To combat conditions attached to obesity and, indeed, extreme wealth, such as diabetes and heart conditions, GCC nationals will need top quality European and/or American private healthcare treatment. The number of people suffering from diabetes in the Middle East region is expected to double from 366 million in 2011 to 552 million by 2030, according to the International Diabetes Federation (source: www.arabianbusinessweek.com).

Private hospitals in these regions could learn a thing or two from some of those aforementioned London hospitals. The move towards more acute medical care has raised profits dramatically at private hospitals and private clinics in London, with revenue per bed ranging from £1.073 million per year at the Lister Hospital in Chelsea versus £347,000 for King Edward VII’s Hospital Sister Agnes (Source: Financial Times). Most private clinics and private hospitals in London generate £3,500-£4,000 a day per overseas patient, which explains the hospitals’ installation of home comforts and Mosques and Prayer Rooms.

So, as it has done in the high end property market, London has shown the way to the rest of Europe also to attract foreign investment in private healthcare. The possibilities for other European cities’ and, indeed, North American cities’ private hospitals and private clinics to join this rapidly growing industry and investment area are huge.

Posted in Articles, Editorial.

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