Health & Social Services
The establishment of a modern system of health care and social services has been one of Saudi Arabia’s most stunning successes.
The Saudi health care network provides free care to the general public and offers some of the most sophisticated specialised treatment available anywhere in the world.
The government also sponsors a wide range of social services programs aimed at ensuring that every citizen has a decent standard of living.
Establishing a modern medical network
Before the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was established in 1932, health care was generally provided by local healers. One of King Abdulaziz’s first initiatives for his new state was to establish free health care, not just for citizens, but for the pilgrims who come to the Kingdom to visit the Islamic holy sites.
As a result, medical facilities were set up throughout Saudi Arabia. Within a relatively short period of time, once-endemic diseases such as malaria and smallpox were virtually eradicated, the infant mortality rate plummeted and life expectancy rose sharply.
The Kingdom’s health care system also benefited tremendously from the government’s five-year development plans, the first of which was launched in 1970. These ongoing plans promote development in areas such as agriculture, commerce, industry, transportation, communication, education and health care.
The first four development plans (1970-1989) brought dramatic changes to the Saudi health care system. Initially, the emphasis was on establishing the necessary infrastructure of hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, laboratories and research facilities.
As these facilities were put in place, the emphasis gradually shifted to improving the quality of medical care and services. The Kingdom encouraged more Saudis to pursue careers in health care, and took steps to attract qualified medical personnel from abroad. Technology was continually updated and the latest medical advances incorporated. Saudi facilities also established working relationships with leading specialist hospitals around the world.
The transformation of the Saudi health care system since 1970 has been astonishing. In 1970, there were 74 hospitals with 9,039 beds; by 2005, there were 350 hospitals with nearly 48,000 beds.
The Ministry of Health and other government agencies have established the majority of health care facilities throughout the country. The government has also encouraged greater private sector involvement by offering long-term, interest-free loans for the establishment of hospitals, clinics and pharmacies. By 1990, the private sector accounted for 27 percent of Saudi health care services.
Quality care, accessible to all
Today, Saudis have access to a national network of thousands of hospitals and clinics, and can obtain virtually any specialist medical treatment they might need in the Kingdom.
Sophisticated surgical procedures such as open heart surgery and organ transplants are routinely performed in Saudi hospitals by medical professionals that meet the highest international standards. One area of particular note is the success in separating conjoined twins by medical teams at a number of National Guard hospitals.
In addition, medications are readily available to patients at a low cost thanks to subsidies from the government. Saudi companies are also encouraged to manufacture pharmaceuticals.