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Spotlight on Saudi Arabia

Published in eyeforpharma 20 May by Rachel Howard
What are the opportunities and challenges for pharma companies wishing to gain a foothold in this oil-rich kingdom?

Traditionally the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has been overlooked by pharmaceutical companies, with the region contributing only about 2% of global pharmaceutical sales in 2010. Difficult regulatory environments and political turmoil have compounded the perceived lack of attractiveness of the region as a whole.

As we reach the middle of the decade, could the tide be turning? Over the last year, I have noticed increasing industry interest in Saudi Arabia (KSA) – and with good reason given it is the fastest growing pharmaceutical market in the Middle East, experiencing double-digit growth. In this article, I will take a look at the opportunities and challenges for pharma companies wishing to gain a foothold in this oil-rich kingdom.


Though vast swathes of the country are uninhabitable desert, Saudi Arabia has a population fast approaching 30 million. It is a young country, with over half of the population under 30 years of age. As it is home to the holy Islamic cities of Mecca and Medina, its population receives a seasonal boost as over two million pilgrims visit each year to perform the Hajj. It also contains about a quarter of the world’s known petroleum reserves, and oil revenues account for approximately 90 percent of the government’s income.

A key pillar of Saudi Arabia’s internal stability relative to much of the surrounding region has been the kingdom’s generous social welfare system, of which healthcare forms an important segment. Healthcare services are available free of charge not only to Saudi citizens but also to all pilgrims, regardless of their nationality. Recent decades have seen considerable improvement in both the quantity and quality of healthcare services. A Royal Decree in 2002 resulted in sizeable expansion of the primary care network. Care in the top public hospitals, such as Riyadh’s renowned King Fahad Medical City, easily rivals that of the West, with imported medical technology and state-of-the-art facilities. Medical education is also fully funded by the state, including overseas training. As a result, many physicians are trained in leading US and UK medical schools.

However, not all is rosy. Despite the country’s affluence and stated commitment to healthcare, indicators suggest Saudi Arabia’s overall healthcare performance remains mediocre compared with the West, with an infant mortality rate that is double the average and a shorter life expectancy.

Read the full article at

25th August 2015



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