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Sun 3 Feb 2008 12:19 PM

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King Abdullah pledges healthcare investment

No expense spared in improving health of 27 million people living in Saudi, ruler says.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah on Saturday pledged to spare no expense in improving the health of the 27 million people living in the kingdom.

The king said the government was ready to meet all the requirements of the healthcare sector, regardless of the cost, reported Saudi daily Arab News.

"Nothing is expensive when it comes to people’s health,” the king said, quoted the newspaper.

"There is nothing impossible and nothing expensive for you... You can tell me anything you want [for the betterment of this sector] and I will accept it with an open mind for the welfare of the Saudi people."

King Abdullah made the remarks following a reception with officials from the World Health Organisation (WHO), during which the king received a shield for his efforts in combating smoking, which includes last year declaring Makkah and Madinah tobacco-free cities.

Saudi Arabia has around six million cigarette smokers, including 600,000 women, according to Health Ministry figures. This ranks the kingdom 23rd among the world's cigarette consuming nations.

The kingdom has been stepping up its efforts to reduce smoking, with Abdullah Al-Badah, supervisor of the anti-smoking programme at the Health Ministry, recently calling for a 100% to 200% increase in the tariff on tobacco imports.

In May last year the Health Ministry announced it was taking legal action unnamed international tobacco companies for more than $2.7 billion to cover the cost of treatment for tobacco-related illnesses.

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