The Saudi Arabian healthcare system consists of three main players including the government, government agencies, and private players. However, the government is the largest provider of health services across Saudi Arabia because it owns and manages most of the hospitals and dispensaries. This assignment will analyze the evolution of the healthcare in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Firstly, the paper will explore the history and evolution of the health care system. This part will focus on the progressive increase of infrastructure in the health sector, the involvement of the government and increase in the number of health professionals. Secondly, the assignment will discuss the evolution of the healthcare system policy and proposed rulings impacting the healthcare system. Finally, the paper will explore the effect of population growth on current Saudi Arabian healthcare access and efficiency.
The Saudi Arabian healthcare system has a long history and has evolved significantly over the last few decades. The healthcare system started with small clinics and limited resources (Al-Rabeeah, 2003). King Abdulaziz launched the first public health department in Mecca in 1925 to improve the health of Saudi citizens (Almalki, FitzGerald, & Clark, 2011). The health department was mandated to finance and implement free health care for the pilgrims and population by launching several dispensaries and hospitals. The establishment of this health department was a significant step in delivering curative health services to the population. However, the national revenue was inadequate to offer health care services to the entire population. As such, most Saudi citizens continued to use traditional medicines, and the prevalence of epidemic diseases remained high across the country. The healthcare system continued to evolve in the subsequent years. In 1949, there were 111 doctors and less than 100 hospital beds in Saudi Arabia. The number of doctors increased from 1172 in 1949 to 30281 in 1998. On the other hand, the number of nurses increased from 3261 in 1949 to 64790 in 1998. There were about 300 hospitals and about 1700 PHC care centers in 1998 around the Kingdom (Sebai, Milaat, & Al-Zulaibani, 2001).
In the recent past, the Saudi Arabian healthcare system has made significant achievements and is now ranked number 26 out of the best 190 healthcare systems in the world. The Saudi Arabian healthcare is ranked in a better position than Australia and Canada (World Health, 2000). The Ministry of Health (MOH) offers 60 percent of the health care services while 30 percent of the services are offered by the private players and other government agencies. Besides, the MOH has invested in infrastructure to expand the curative services in healthcare facilities around the country. The Riyadh invested 84.5 billion between 2005 and 2008 to improve health services for the citizens (Albejaidi, 2010). The MOH has also invested in medical training with the aim to increase the number of health professionals in the Kingdom. Even though the MOH is the biggest investor in the healthcare sector, the private sector has a significant market share in this sector. Currently, the MOH owns and manages approximately 244 hospitals and 2037 PHC across the Kingdom (Almalki, FitzGerald, & Clark, 2011). Other government agencies own and run about 39 hospitals with a capacity of close to 10822 beds. The private sector, which operates mainly in urban centers, own and operate about 125 hospitals and 2218 dispensaries around the country. The entry of the private hospitals in the health sector was a major boost to the Saudi Arabian health care system because the private hospitals provide some of the advanced services that are unavailable in government healthcare facilities.
Healthcare system policy emerged because of the need to standardize operations in healthcare facilities and the need for clarity in managing legal, safety and professional issues. Other issues that triggered the need for healthcare system policy are the demand for better and more accessible services. The health policies in Saudi Arabian are introduced by the government through the MOH.
The increasing demand for healthcare services led to the introduction of Council for Cooperative Health Insurance in 1999. The function of this body is to launch, control and manage a health insurance framework for the Saudi Arabian healthcare market. According to Walston and colleagues, this Council was launched due to the high costs of new medical technology and the increasing incidence of disease in the society (Walston, Al-Harbi, & Al-Omar, 2008). The establishment of the Council for Cooperative Health Insurance has led to the introduction of different insurance policies to suit the Saudi citizens.
A royal decree in 2002 led to the introduction of the Council of Health Services (Almalki, FitzGerald, & Clark, 2011). The Council is led by the MOH and has representatives from the private health sector. This Council was established to overcome the inequalities in the provision of health services and offer cost-effective and comprehensive health care. Additionally, the government to introduce up-to-date health services in various hospitals across the nation.
Privatization of public healthcare facilities is another factor that has impacted the health care system in Saudi Arabia. Policy makers in Saudi Arabia argue that the privatization of public hospitals is a good way to reform the health care system. The government has already initiated privatization strategy and passed the associated regulation. As such, several public healthcare facilities might be sold or leased to private players in the coming years. The government expects to accrue various benefits from the privatization of public hospitals such as fast decision-making and reduction in expenditure on health care. The MOH will also get new financial sources, and the overall health services will improve. If these benefits are achieved, more people will have access to affordable health care services at their convenience.
The focus on e-health is also affecting the Saudi Arabian health care system. Although there is underutilization of e-health applications in the Kingdom, some hospitals are increasingly using these systems. Several health organizations have implemented electronic health record information and e-health to serve their patients better. The government is also investing heavily in creating e-health systems in the public sector. For instance, the MOH had set a budget of SR 4 billion to develop e-health programs between 2008 and 2011 (Qurban & Austria, 2008).
The provision of free healthcare services is another important in policy in the Saudi Arabian health system. Saudi citizens have access to free healthcare through 2000 PHC and 420 hospitals in the country (El Bcheraoui, et al., 2015). Public sector expats are also eligible for comprehensive health care including curative, preventive and diagnostic services. Advanced health services that are available through this policy are cancer treatment, organ transplant, and cardiovascular procedures.
The population of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is growing fast, and a large percentage of the population is aged below 40 years. As of 2014, the Saudi Arabia’s population was about 26 million people with an annual growth rate of 2.2% (Yusuf, 2014). The population growth is coupled with a rise in non-communicable illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. The healthcare system has to cater for the health needs of the growing population with the limited resources. For example, one study found that the prevalence of obesity among employees was 72 percent, while the prevalence of diabetes was 22 percent (Alzeidan, Rabiee, Mandil, Hersi, & Fayed, 2016). It is evident that the population growth in Saudi Arabia is affecting the access to health services for people of all ages. According to the current statistic released by MOH, there is inequality in the distribution of healthcare services in KSA. The inequality in health services across the Kingdom is attributable to the unequal distribution of resources such as health professionals and infrastructure across geographical areas. Due to high population, people face long waiting time in hospitals and those who require a special service experience long waiting list. Besides, there is a shortage of health services for the most disadvantaged individuals in the society like the senior adults, individuals with special needs like disability (Alkawai & Alowayyed, 2017). People living in rural areas, border and remote area are the most disadvantaged in the society since they lack the access to hospitals.
The population increase impacts the long-term planning of community health as well as hospitals (Perrott & Holland, 2005). Changes in age composition and alterations in population density create new problems in the healthcare system. Hence, the Saudi Arabian healthcare system is experiencing various problems due to rapid population growth.
Conclusively, the Saudi Arabian healthcare system has advanced significantly over the last few decades. The number of the health professionals and health facilities has increased across the country. This increase can be attributed to the investment of the government in medical training and construction of new hospitals. Evidently, the government has attempted to make health services available to Saudi citizens through different approaches such as the launch comprehensive health insurance, privatization and introduction of dispensaries in remote areas. Population growth is a great challenge to the access of health services in Saudi Arabia because it increases the number of people who are seeking care. The increase in population is also coupled with the emergence and increase of noncommunicable illnesses.
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Alkawai, F., & Alowayyed, A. (2017). Barriers in accessing care services for physically disabled in a hospital setting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, cross-sectional study. Journal of Community Hospital Internal Medicine Perspectives , 7 (2), 82-86.
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Al-Rabeeah, A. (2003). The history of health care in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with emphasis on pediatric surgery. Saudi medical journal , 24 (5), 9-10.
Alzeidan, R., Rabiee, F., Mandil, A., Hersi, A., & Fayed, A. (2016). Non-communicable disease risk factors among employees and their families of a Saudi university: An epidemiological study. PloS one , 11 (11), e0165036.
El Bcheraoui, C., Tuffaha, M., Daoud, F., Kravitz, H., AlMazroa, M., Al Saeedi, M., et al. (2015). Access and barriers to healthcare in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 2013: findings from a national multistage survey. BMJ open , 5 (6), e007801.
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