By Andy Sambidge
Gulf governments spend average of 7% of annual budgets compared to 17% in OECD countries
GCC governments are being urged to reform their healthcare sectors from systems that only treat sickness to ones that also preserve and promote health.
The World Bank is calling on the region to rethink the way healthcare is financed and organised to align incentives for "improved access to, and continuity of, appropriate care in primary care settings".
“The GCC countries have made important strides in improving the health standards of their populations but the government spending on health care remains low and does not meet people’s expectations,” said Bassam Ramadan, World Bank country manager in Kuwait.
“The GCC governments spend an average of seven percent of their annual budgets on healthcare compared to the 17 percent spent by OECD countries.”
A regulatory framework for issues such as tobacco control, and prevention of road injuries should also be set up, the World Bank said in a statement after sponsoring a five-day health workshop in the region.
More than 30 representatives from Ministries of Health, Finance, and Planning and health agencies, as well as hospitals and health insurance companies attended the event, which was part of a series of human development related courses held in partnership between the World Bank and the IMF Centre.
The workshop was held at a time when the GCC is witnessing a rise in death and disability due to non-communicable diseases and injuries.
Four GCC countries are in the global top 20 for obesity - Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. As a result, diseases like diabetes affect almost one in five people in the GCC which is almost three times the average of other high income countries.
The World Bank also said road traffic injuries take a disproportionate toll on the youth of the region, even though public health measures like enforcement of seatbelt use and speed limits has been found to be successful in saving lives world over.
“The proper response to the challenge of containing the rising burden of non-communicable diseases and injuries requires more than only increasing health spending,” said Enis Baris, World Bank sector manager for health in the MENA region.
“Our strategy calls for revisiting the values and principles that underpin health systems for more pluralistic and accountable health system governance.
"In the GCC countries this would mean rethinking the way healthcare is financed and organized to align incentives for improved access to, and continuity of, appropriate care in primary care settings.”
The World Bank said it is well positioned to work with GCC countries on transformative health sector reforms mobilising data, information, experiences and interventions stemming from its five decades of experience in the health sector.
“By re-orienting health systems in the Arab world from systems only treating sickness to systems also preserving and promoting health, people can live longer and healthier lives at a lower cost to the state and the people themselves,” said Aaka H Pande, World Bank health economist, who helped to organise the workshop.