Global Health Care Issues | Saudi Arabia

Global Health Care Issues | Saudi Arabia

23rd Feb 2017

Across the world a vast range of medical issues affect different parts of the planet to differing degrees. Some are global, some are regional and some can be specific to a much smaller area.

As a medic looking at taking your career overseas, knowing as much as you can about a country’s health issues can be the key behind successfully securing a new job. As well as this it can also play a major role in helping you to decide where your future could lie.

Here, therefore, is the fifth installment in our exclusive series of guides to the major health issues facing the countries we most commonly work with. In this article we will look at one of the world’s most unique locations - The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.




2.15 million km²





GDP Per Capita



Saudi Riyal


Chronic Lifestyle Related Conditions


Saudi Arabia has a serious issue with lifestyle related conditions. As with much of the Gulf region Heart Disease is the biggest killer in the country, but rates are high even by Gulf standards. It is estimated that around 30% of the Saudi population are obese, and this figure has risen noticeably since 1990. 23% of men are classified as physically inactive, whilst this figure is nearer 50% for women within the country.


These factors mean that conditions like type-2 diabetes are growing in prevalence in the Kingdom, with an estimated 3.4 million people suffering from the condition in 2015. A massive percentage of the country’s 28 million strong population.


Unfortunately these statistics only look set to get worse in the near future, as more Saudis begin to enjoy unhealthy diets with little time for exercise or healthy eating.


Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)


As followers of our Twitter page will know, Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (or MERS as it is usually shortened to) leads to the death of around 36% of all those who contract it.


Middle East respiratory syndrome is a viral respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus that was first identified as a major issue in Saudi Arabia over five years ago. It is believed to be transported by camels, however the exact science behind this factor still remains unknown, meaning that it remains untreatable.

Typically the symptoms can range from a simple fever like cough, to shortness of breath and diarrhoea, whilst in patients with long term health conditions such as Cancer and Diabetes the side effects can be far more debilitating.

In the past year and a half over 480 cases of MERS have been reported, with the vast majority of these being in Saudi.

Whilst the causes of MERS remain unknown, the World Health Organisation has issued a list of precautions that should be taken by individuals in the Middle East and North Africa to lower their risk of contracting the condition. This includes not consuming any animal products that they aren’t fully sure are safe, and ensuring that they wash thoroughly after being in contact with any farm animals. On top of this they have advised anyone with longer term health conditions to avoid any contact with camels to minimise their risk.

MERS rates have dropped in recent years, and with better education and further research the syndrome should be treatable in the not too distant future.


Respiratory Issues


Although the number of Saudis smoking tobacco has fallen in recent years, it still remains at a relatively high 26% (rates are around 16% in the UK). This has lead to higher than average rates of lung cancer, COPD and asthma.


As well as this the country’s dusty climate combined, often polluted cities and industrial buildings can also play a part in increasing the number of individuals facing lung problems.


Kidney Disease


Perhaps unsurprisingly Saudi Arabia has the world’s 6th highest rates of kidney disease, and this is once more strongly related to the unhealthy lifestyle lead by many of those living within the Kingdom. Diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and smoking all lead to an increased risk of the condition - and as a result it’s equally as unsurprising that kidney disease is often described as the biggest health problem affecting Saudi Arabia today.


Breast Cancer


Breast Cancer screening in Saudi Arabia is free, yet very few women actually take up the offer. Saudi society still sees women dress very conservatively, with the Abaya (veil) being mandatory for women almost Kingdom-wide. As a result few are willing to allow medical scans to take place on an intimate area of the body.


A 2013 report showed that just 8% of women in the country had taken a mammogram at some point in their lifetime, with many of these cases being after it was recommended by a doctor.


As the country’s traditional beliefs continue to remain a crucial part of everyday life in the Kingdom, it is likely that the number of deaths from Breast Cancer will rise in the near future. Successful treatment almost always starts at an early stage and, as things stand, that’s rare in Saudi.


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