SEATTLE, Washington — The Middle East is comprised of 17 countries in Southwest Asia and Northern Africa. It is a region with various ethnic groups, politics and religions, which can fuel conflict. Due to the region’s widespread instability, many Middle Eastern healthcare systems struggle to provide adequate care and treatment to its citizens due to a lack of financing and human resources.
Some major health problems that plague the Middle East are diabetes and a lack of health education. Many countries in the region have state-funded healthcare systems, but they all have varying degrees of stipulations to qualify for coverage and there are differences in quality of service. This article will discuss the current healthcare systems and COVID-19 ‘s effect on them in three Middle Eastern countries in particular: Bahrain, Qatar and Lebanon.
Bahrain prides itself on achieving “Health For All” in the early 1990s. This means all citizens and residents receive free primary healthcare. It has a mix of private and public healthcare sectors, and those who can afford private healthcare typically opt for that. However, the public sector’s quality is also comparable to Western Countries.
Bahrain has suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic with thousands of cases and hundreds of deaths. Additionally, it has suffered economically because it was unable to sell barrels of oil at high enough prices to break even. However, Bahrain remains dedicated to investing in healthcare and ensuring all citizens have access to safe and quality coverage. It has established the National Health Regulatory Authority to ensure its procedures and standards are consistent with the newest innovations.
Qatar also values its healthcare systems and spends 2.2% of its GDP on healthcare annually. It has a public healthcare system that offers free and subsidized services to residents and citizens. Around 90% of Qatar’s population utilizes the public healthcare system, while the remaining populous utilizes private healthcare.
In addition, Hamad Medical Corporation is a non-profit group in Qatar that is responsible for ambulances and runs multiple hospitals. They are monitored under the Ministry of Public Health and work to provide the best quality of service – especially during the pandemic. Qatar has had more than 130,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 200 deaths. However, the hospitals are working hard to contain the virus and flatten the curve.
Lebanon, on the other hand, is in a state of prolonged political unrest that harms all social programming — including the healthcare sector. Out of all Middle Eastern healthcare systems, Lebanon’s is one of the worst in terms of standardization and quality. Lebanon’s healthcare system is currently undergoing a financial crisis. Public and private hospitals are not receiving needed funding from the government, jeopardizing medical professionals’ abilities to perform operations and provide care.
Additionally, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have a large role in Lebanon’s healthcare, owning 80% of the 110 primary health care centers throughout the country. About 82% of hospitals in Lebanon are private and the private sector accounts for 95% of healthcare as well. This contributes to the stark differences in quality and speed of care. The public healthcare sector is funded with 5% of the national budget. Even so, public healthcare continues to struggle without enough supplies and people to work effectively.
On top of the financial issues within the healthcare system late last year, the Ministry of Public Health is now dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Lebanon has had more than 80,000 cases and more than 600 deaths since the beginning of the virus. The Ministry of Public Health is working to ensure better treatment and preventative education to create a healthier environment.
Non-profit organizations are a large component of Middle Eastern healthcare systems. Some prominent ones include Health Outreach to the Middle East (H.O.M.E) and the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA). H.O.M.E connects doctors around the world with Middle Eastern doctors to help them provide the best physical and mental care. On the other hand, MECA works to ensure children have necessities such as food, water and healthcare. In 2019, MECA donated more than $350,000 for humanitarian aid throughout the Middle East.
These three countries highlight the vast differences between Middle Eastern healthcare systems. In a region struggling with war and conflict, healthcare needs to be a top priority. Governments throughout the Middle East need to continue working to provide better preventive and post-operational care to ensure healthier and safer futures for their citizens.
– Allison Caso