By Claire Ferris-Lay
Gulf governments must spread the burden of treating diabetes epidemic, says MSD exec
GCC governments must press ahead with plans to roll out mandatory health insurance to avoid shouldering the cost of the region’s diabetes epidemic, the regional president for pharmaceutical firm MSD said.
Oil-rich governments are investing heavily in medical care for nationals but cannot continue to pay for treatment as diabetes rates reach pandemic levels, said Soren Bo Christiansen.
“I think it [compulsory health insurance] is a very good thing. There is no way that they can continue to fund the healthcare system as they have done in the past,” he told Arabian Business.
“The cost of treating diabetes and managing it is significant. If you look at the way the healthcare systems are structured they can’t continue in the future. There will be more patient co-payment.”
The burden of providing care to uninsured residents has been a key concern for many Gulf states, where the rate of lifestyle diseases is on the rise.
Saudi Arabia in 2009 rolled out mandatory health insurance for expatriates and nationals, linking proof of healthcare insurance to the renewal of workers’ visas. Abu Dhabi has required companies and sponsors to provide medical insurance for staff and family members since 2006, in a bid to reduce the cost of medical care to the government
Dubai in October said its stalled scheme to offer medical insurance to every employee in the emirate is under review and may be implemented as early as next year.
Rates of diabetes in the Gulf have reached epidemic proportions. The number of people suffering in the Middle East and North Africa is expected to double from 366 million in 2011 to 552 million by 2030, according to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF).
By 2030, 11 percent of residents in the MENA region will be living with diabetes while six out of the world's top ten countries with the highest prevalence of diabetes are in the MENA region, IDF has said.
Governments are ramping up their investment in new medicines and treatment. The cost of treating diabetes costs the Middle East $5.5bn annually and accounts for 14 percent of their total healthcare expenditure.
Several countries have introduced laws requiring restaurant chains to prominently post calorie information in a bid to cut down obesity rates. GCC governments could look to implement similar measures, said Bo Christiansen.
“Eating habits are a critical factor of developing diabetes. The pharmaceutical industry in the past we have always been the bad guys but if you look to the McDonalds, Burger King that have free access to advertising and encouraging people to eat their products which is not necessary healthy, I think more can be done,” he said.
We still need to feed our family healthy, well-balanced meals while keeping to a set budget. Change is the hardest thing and trying to do everything at once will have most people quitting before they even begin.