Saudi Arabia accounts for 60 percent of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries’ healthcare expenditure, and the sector remains a top priority for the Saudi Arabian Government. In 2022, it will spend $36.8 billion on healthcare and social development – 14.4 percent of its 2022 budget and the third largest line item after education and military. The Saudi Arabian Government is targeting the healthcare sector for privatization.
Key Saudi Arabia Healthcare Players
- The Ministry of Health (MoH): The Ministry is the regulator for all healthcare related activities and services within the country.
- National Unified Company for Medical Supplies (NUPCO): NUPCO is responsible for centralized government procurement of pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and supplies for the benefit of all public healthcare facilities.
- Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA): SFDA monitors and controls imports and distribution of medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and food products.
- Cooperative Council of Health Insurance (CCHI): This entity is an independent government body charged with regulating Saudi Arabia’s health insurance sector.
- National Center for Privatization (NCP): NCP is responsible for enabling the privatization of certain government assets and services across industry sectors.
Doing Business in the Saudi Healthcare Sector
Although U.S. exporters are not required to appoint a local Saudi agent or distributor to sell to Saudi companies, it is strongly recommended that companies consider partnering with a local company for the purposes of monitoring business opportunities, navigating import and standard testing regulations, and identifying public sector sales and contract opportunities.
While Saudi Arabia is pursuing privatization initiatives, currently government spending accounts for over 60 percent of the country’s healthcare expenditure. NUPCO is responsible for the centralized procurement of pharmaceutical and medical supplies and the administration of the supply chain and logistics for all public healthcare providers. To build its inventory of products and services for public healthcare providers, NUPCO collects requirements from all government agencies in the healthcare sector and then issues tenders to meet those demands. Tenders are often only announced for a short period, making the need for exporters to have a strong local connection even more vital. NUPCO’s aim is to provide a robust catalog or clearinghouse of inventory from which the public healthcare providers can choose. Only prequalified companies are invited to submit bids. To become prequalified, foreign companies must register their company with NUPCO in addition to registering their medical products – both pharmaceuticals and medical devices – with the SFDA.
For private companies and those Saudi entities targeted by the Saudi Arabian Government for privatization, U.S. companies may find procurement opportunities posted on the NCP website.
Under Vision 2030, the Saudi Arabian Government plans to invest over $65 billion to develop the country’s healthcare infrastructure. In addition, it aims to increase private sector contribution from 40 percent to 65 percent by 2030, targeting the privatization of 290 hospitals and 2,300 primary health centers.
To promote preventive and integrated care, and to improve access to the health service, the MOH plans to launch health clusters across Saudi Arabia. Each cluster will be an integrated network of health care providers serving approximately one million people. Other MOH priorities include increasing the number of internationally accredited hospitals, doubling the number of primary healthcare visits per capita from two to four, decreasing the rates of smoking and obesity, improving the quality of preventive and therapeutic healthcare services, and expanding digital healthcare innovation.
Non-communicable diseases account for 68 percent of all deaths in Saudi Arabia. Almost 18 percent of the adult population has diabetes, and more than 40 percent are obese. Saudi Arabia will continue to increase its spending to prevent and treat diabetes and lifestyle disorders. In 2020, Saudi Arabia spent 25 to 35 percent of the total healthcare budget on diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases. With the push for preventive care screening for managing chronic diseases, the number of primary healthcare center visits per capita will double.
A key Vision 2030 goal of the Public Investment Fund (PIF), Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, is to localize the country’s pharmaceutical sector. Saudi Arabia was placed on the U.S. Trade Representative Special 301 Priority Watch List in 2018 in part for failing to provide IP protection for pharmaceuticals, In April 2022, USTR moved Saudi Arabia from its Priority Watch List to “No List” as a result of major improvements to its IP protection and enforcement procedures.
Dental Services: The dental care service sector is anticipated to grow due to an increase in dental care spending, growing penetration by insurance coverage, and increase in the per capita income. There is a strong demand for dental treatment and improved access to preventive and cosmetic dental care. Opportunities exist for companies that provide advanced treatments, solutions, and equipment in the areas of Endodontics, Prosthodontics, Implantology, Orthodontics, Dental Cosmetics/Restoration Services, and Periodontics.
Digital Health: Spurred out of necessity at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Saudi Arabia is expected to be one of the fastest-growing digital health markets in the GCC region. The government has allocated $1.5 billion for healthcare IT and digital transformation programs. The MOH established an e-Health strategy to utilize telemedicine to improve the accessibility and quality of care in remote areas. Saudi Arabia’s telehealth adoption rate is approximately 70 percent, and almost 34 percent of the young physicians use AI to facilitate diagnoses. In spring 2022, Saudi Arabia launched Seha Virtual Hospital, the largest of its kind in the world.
Health Insurance: Key growth drivers for this sector include an increase in the insured population, the gradual application of mandatory health insurance measures, e.g., medical insurance is now a requirement to renew residency for expats, for all Saudis working in the private sector, and for tourists’ visa applications. Stricter government enforcement measures are expected to increase medical insurance coverage across the business community. For more information, access the Saudi Central Bank’s 2021 Saudi Insurance Market Report on the SAMA website.
Medical Devices: The Saudi market for medical equipment has an estimated value of $2 billion and is growing annually at approximately 10 percent. Greater concern for healthcare and increased consumption of healthcare services sustain a strong market for medical equipment. Saudi Arabia is seeking to transition from a manufacturer of low-value commodities, such as bandages, gloves, and syringes, to a manufacturer of high-value medical products by offering financial incentives to encourage local manufacturing. Best prospects include Covid-19 testing kits, PPE, emergency room equipment, rehabilitation equipment, diagnostic equipment, electro-medical equipment, orthopedic, dental appliances and prosthesis, glucometers, implants, syringe pumps/consumables, and advanced wound management.
Pharma and Biosciences: Saudi Arabia accounts for nearly 60 percent of the purchases for pharmaceutical products in the GCC. Its pharmaceutical market is expected to grow by 5.5 percent annually and reach $10.7 billion by 2023. The transition to an increasingly privatized and comprehensive healthcare system will drive demand for both patented and generic medicine. Pharmaceuticals for diabetic, cardiovascular, antibiotics, and cancer treatment offer the best prospects. Under Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia is prioritizing local production, technology transfer, conducting clinical trials locally, and the training of the Saudi labor force – meaning the government wants companies to invest in Saudi Arabia versus exporting to it.
Specialty Clinics and Ambulatory Care Centers: Critical to Saudi Arabia’s privatization goals, there is currently a lack of facilities across specialty areas including gynecology, oncology, and cosmetology. It is expected that the government will use public-private partnership (PPP) models to build capacity in these areas. The government’s focus on wellness and preventive care will drive investment toward non-hospital settings. It is projected that at least five percent of healthcare service spending will shift to non-hospital care settings.
- Ministry of Health
- Saudi Food and Drug Administration
- Saudi Commission for Health Specialties
- Saudi Health Council
- Cooperative Council of Health Insurance
- National Unified Company for Medical Supplies
- Saudi Central Bank’s 2021 Saudi Insurance Market Report
- Global Health Exhibition, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
- Saudi International Pharma Expo, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
- The Saudi International Dental Conference, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
- Arab Health, Dubai, UAE
For more information, contact: Khalid.Khan@trade.gov