Until recently, emerging economies such as Brazil, Thailand, Malaysia and India dominated the field of health tourism, while the market within the Middle East remained extremely limited, with Jordan and Turkey being some of the few options. This trend is now being challenged by new entrants such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia that have introduced major healthcare reforms, prompting investors and tourists alike to turn their attention to the GCC.
Generous investments are being made in state-of-the-art healthcare facilities, while medical research is accelerating at a faster pace than ever, providing greater understanding and far wider options to individuals to live longer and healthier lives. More importantly, these countries are offering new options in specialised areas such as oncology and genetic disorders to help prevent disease and treat critical illnesses with the latest medicines and diagnostic procedures.
Building a reputation
Bahrain’s National Genome Project is a case in point. Launched this year, the unique project is ushering in a new era of molecular medicine. The primary goal of the centre is to conduct studies into the genetic makeup of Bahrain’s population and learn about its genetic susceptibility to disease so as to develop diagnostic methods and medicines tailored to individuals. This is crucial considering that Arab countries are estimated to have among the highest rates of genetic disorders in the world, with more than 900 pathogens being endemic to the region.
However, the gains of the initiative will go beyond the region as scientists are armed with the valuable data required to investigate genetic diseases in general. As well as this pioneering research, there are more ground-breaking initiatives, including a specialised multiple sclerosis centre – the first of its kind in the GCC, that will open in Bahrain in the next two years offering a new range of treatments for patients.
Focusing on specialist care is part of a wider healthcare pattern, as the global move to more patient-centred healthcare is accompanied by a shift to more data-driven health research. The Kingdom’s strong adoption of cloud computing – with pioneering regulation and the first AWS hyperscale data centre in the Middle East – is revolutionising the health sector, with work underway to better unify public- and private-sector hospitals, and offering huge possibilities for health record management, clinical trials, AI and blockchain applications, and much more. These developments, coupled with campaigns to spread awareness of the strength of the regional offer, will escalate market growth.
The global medical-tourism market is expected to cross $30 billion by 2025 according to a new research by Global Market Insights Inc. This presents a huge opportunity for the region at large – to develop new centres of excellence that will serve the increasing number of individuals looking at cheaper and newer options. Availability of comprehensive healthcare solutions and presence of revolutionary technology at low cost will make the Gulf, and rapid innovators like Bahrain, an attractive destination for medical tourists.
Of course the region’s new markets will need to establish their credentials by ensuring that private hospitals and medical centres meet strict international standards. This explains Bahrain’s decision to launch a ground-breaking accreditation programme for private hospitals and medical centres to secure a licence for medical tourism. With billions of dollars pouring into healthcare across the Middle East, providers and consumers are looking to see what will happen as the Gulf becomes a driver, rather than a consumer, of health innovation.