Leveraging the large number of pilgrims who visit the holy cities of Makkah and Medina to boost broader tourism activity is an important goal for the Kingdom, and one area that could benefit substantially from this push is health care. The Kingdom’s increasing population, alongside enhanced transportation links with Makkah, Jeddah and major aviation centres, will contribute to demand for health care in Medina.
Medina is seeking the World Health Organisation (WHO) healthy city accreditation. According to the WHO, a healthy city has a long-term strategy to continually develop a holistic health environment. Achieving this goal will require a multifaceted approach that includes community participation and collaboration among multiple stakeholders. Crucially, the public and private sectors need to work together to successfully create a city in which wellness is a central consideration.
Urban planning for well-being has a strong role to play, and the Knowledge Economic City in Medina provides a strong example of ongoing efforts to achieve healthy city status. The project includes green areas, play areas for children, fitness and well-being facilities, stores, cafes and mosques, which create a sense of community. Another example is Almadinah Region Development Authority’s pilot Humanising Cities programme. The goal of the project is to enhance the quality of life in Medina through sustainable development, innovation and social responsibility. “Humanisation is about how urban public spaces serve to enhance human happiness,” Rekaz Faisal Aljedaani, senior urban designer at Almadinah Region Development Authority, told OBG. If successful, the project will provide a blueprint for schemes in other regions. ”Saudis are becoming increasingly health-conscious. As a result, preventive care and wellness are growing, particularly among younger generations,” Makarem Batterjee, president of the Saudi German Hospitals Group, told OBG (see Health & Life Sciences chapter).
A healthy city requires that citizens have sufficient access to high-quality health care. In light of a number of government regulations that prioritise the employment of Saudis over foreign nationals, one challenge will be securing sufficient human capital to meet growing demand. “Saudiisation is affecting the health sector because there are not enough local doctors and nurses to fill all the specialities in demand. We need doctors and nurses from overseas,” Sanjay Shah, executive vice-president at Fakeeh Care and executive chairman at Kameda Arabia, told OBG. Resources will therefore need to be directed towards the domestic training of doctors and preventing brain drain. Upskilling and ongoing training will also be key as new technology continues to transform health care.
As in many sectors of the increasingly knowledge-based economy, technology has a role to play in health care in the Kingdom. The government’s new electronic health information system is designed to link all primary health centres, pharmacies, and public and private hospitals. “The government is making advancements in innovation and technology in health care,” Faisal Al Battah, CEO of the Ghassan N Pharaon Hospital, told OBG. “The programmes are reducing bureaucracy in administrative areas and enhancing the quality of medical facilities.”
Health care technology is also an important component of the medical tourism segment: the secure transmission of health care records between patients’ home medical centres and overseas treatment facilities is a prerequisite for coordinated cross-border medical care. Furthermore, the quality of technology available, as well as the cost of the treatment that uses it, is a significant factor in determining the destinations patients select. In addition to the benefits of online information and marketing efforts, digital technologies can also support pre-treatment and post-treatment patient consultations in the Kingdom.
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