BAHRAIN. As a service-based economy, Bahrain boasts a modern, technologically-advanced and comprehensive healthcare system. In addition, there are a large number of qualified Bahraini doctors who have studied abroad and returned to Bahrain to practice their profession. The College of Health Sciences is a major contributor to building a trained generation of medical professionals. The latest medical and surgical developments, such as keyhole surgery and transplant surgery, are practiced in Bahrain.
Full medical healthcare is available through private, limited practice and public systems. Public medical services are largely free or subsidised. Healthcare facilities include:
The healthcare sector within Bahrain has been identified as an area of opportunity for international companies. Bahrain's determination to create a healthy nation has won it worldwide acclaim including helping it to achieve the top rank amongst Arab countries for human development over the last five years. As a result of health development programmes the life expectancy of both sexes has risen dramatically from being 58 years during the period 1965-1971 for the total population to 73.98 years in 2004 (71.52 years for males and 76.51 years for females) Health indicators in Bahrain are considered to be amongst the best in the region by the World Health Organization.
Most recent available figures show that the total population of Bahrain numbers around 800,000 and approximately 62% are Bahraini nationals. There are approximately 9,000 resident Western expatriates and the remainder are mainly Indians, Pakistan and other Asian nationals.
The birth rate in Bahrain is one of the highest in the world, with 57% of the population less than 25 years of age, although the population growth rate of 1.8% is now the lowest in the GCC. The government's health budget for 2004 represented approximately 8% of total government expenditure.
Trends in the healthcare sector
The challenges facing the Ministry of Health over the next few years will be largely directed through implementation of the 2002-2010 strategic plan. The Ministry of Health has already identified a number of new trends in the health of the nation and these are:
As a result, the Ministry of Health is focussing on the following ten priority areas: cancer, circulatory & cardiovascular diseases, dental health, diabetes, hereditary diseases, injury prevention, respiratory illness, maternal & child health, mental & emotional health and physical & learning disability. The government's policy is to build up and extend the primary care services as this is recognised as being the cornerstone of the health system in Bahrain.
Public and private facilities operate freely along side each other. The state-run Salmaniya Medical Complex provides many of the most up to date services including organ transplantation and oncology services. The Bahrain Defence Force (BDF) Hospital is renowned for its state of the art equipment and its cardiac care. Primary health care facilities are available within a short distance of all residential areas. There are numerous pharmacies and several of these are open 24 hours.
International-manufactured prescription drugs and ingredients are supplied to Bahrain and a wide choice of branded OTC pharmaceuticals are readily available. Bidapharm a major pharmaceutical company on the island has in the past concentrated on the packing of imported pharmaceuticals and has now set up a manufacturing unit - the first in Bahrain.
Social insurance and related medical service sectors
The importance of health insurance is likely to rise as Bahrain becomes more medically advanced. As there is currently no clear regional industry leader in this field, Bahrain is well-positioned to capitalise on its existing healthcare services and sophisticated financial environment to assume this role.
Health insurance for non-Bahrainis in the Kingdom could be made compulsory in the next 18 months (by mid-2006) according to Health Minister Dr Nada Haffadh. Under the proposed law, all expatriates would be treated in private hospitals to reduce the load on government services, but a significant investment in private health is needed first, she said.
The private sector has already evolved with the Limited Private Practice (LPP) comprising the multi-speciality medical clinics located in Salmaniya Medical Complex. The (LPP) was established to meet the growing demand for specialist care identified by the Ministry of Health. The (LPP) clinics provide much needed private medical services for Bahraini and non-Bahrainis alike. The complex is also the largest multi-speciality clinic in Bahrain, with no waiting times and the latest techniques, and approval from most major insurance companies.
To further its leadership role in the health sector in the GCC, Bahrain has recently been active in hosting healthcare conferences and exhibitions. A conference on hearing impairment took place in 2000 and the International Hospital Federation Pan Regional Conference & Exhibition and the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) Physiotherapy Conference were both held in the same year. The first Pediatric Orthopaedic Surgery Symposium was held in Bahrain in September 2004. The second Conference on Primary Healthcare was held in the city in June 2004 in cooperation with the Health Ministers' Council of the GCC.
The privately-owned Gulf Dental Speciality Hospital opened in 2000 and was a pioneer in the region. In addition to state of the art equipment and facilities there is a fully equipped operating theatre and laboratories on the premises. The privately-owned Ibn Al Nafees Medical Complex opened in 2001 and houses more than 20 sub-speciality clinics including those for holistic medicine, especially homeopathy and naturopathy which is being practised for the first time in Bahrain.
A government-appointed task force - with the support of the National Health Service from the UK -has drafted a health strategy for 2002-2010. An action plan to control the new pattern of diseases as well as public health programmes aimed at the community’s well being are among the priorities of the strategic plan. In collaboration with the World Health Authority the Bahrain National Policy for Drugs was formulated in 2001. The Ministry of Health approved the registration of 13 international companies and 139 drugs.
Opportunities in advanced medical infrastructure
While the local hospitals are generally equipped for major surgical operations and there is a growing healthcare market in Bahrain, as across the whole GCC. Many products continue to be sourced from the US and Western Europe. This demonstrates the demand for highly specialised medical services in Bahrain. With the proliferation of medical services, health insurance schemes have also gained importance and some form of medical insurance is generally provided by larger employers for their staff.
The development of medical practices and services is meanwhile encouraged through the entitlement of outside medical providers to have 100% ownership of their facilities. The Ministry of Health supervises all healthcare and pharmaceutical activities, as well as the licensing of healthcare professionals.
Investors seeking commercial registration for medical activities must first obtain approval from the Ministry of Health. Investments in pharmaceutical production require additional authorisation from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and from the Ministry of Environmental Affairs.
Bahrain's emphasis on healthcare is paramount to the Kingdom's evolution into a service-oriented economy with high-skilled practitioners and comprehensive facilities.
Education and competitive strengths
Bahrain was the first GCC country to introduce government-provided education in 1919. Having obtained a head-start, Bahrain today boasts a number of public schools, at which education is provided to students free of charge, as well as many top-rate, fee-based private schools, offering American, British, French, Indian, Urdu and Japanese education. Bahrain is ranked as having the highest literacy rate amongst Arab countries (for 1995-2000) according to the United Nations Human Development Report.
Higher education has gained increased importance as more and more available jobs require specialised skills. Bahrain has two main institutions of higher learning: the University of Bahrain and the Arabian Gulf University. In addition, there are several language teaching centres, including the Polyglot School, the British Council Teaching Centre, the Cambridge School of English, Berlitz and Alliance Francaise. Correspondence programmes are also available with the University of Maryland and DePaul University. Vocational training facilities in Bahrain include the Bahrain Institute for Banking and Finance, Bahrain Training Institute, Bahrain Institute of Technology and the Gulf College for Hospitality and Tourism. There are also several computer training institutes.
As Bahrain's investment in its human capital gains importance, the opportunities for international investors wishing to set up academic or training facilities will grow accordingly. An increasing number of high school graduates are flocking to the West to pursue their higher education at universities and colleges abroad. The demand for such institutions and programs could be met if such facilities were available in Bahrain.
The GCC market, especially Saudi Arabia, is a key target market for Bahrain's education industry. Given the more cosmopolitan environment in Bahrain, it is common for dependents of those who work in neighbouring countries to live and study in Bahrain. In order to increase Bahrain's appeal to these markets, it is imperative that the country provides top-quality educational and training facilities that meet the demands of an emerging generation of globally-attuned Gulf residents.
The Bahrain Training Institute (BTI) has launched an initiative aimed at nurturing entrepreneurial skills among Bahrainis. Under this initiative, job-seekers are provided with the necessary training and financing to start their own businesses. Education, creativity and drive will be key in ensuring the success of these enterprises. In Bahrain's long-standing tradition of enhancing its human capital, opportunities abound for international companies that provide education and training services.
Foreign investment projects that provide education and vocational training services qualify for 100% ownership. Visas for non-Bahraini instructors can also be obtained. Investors seeking commercial registration to establish private schools or institutions for higher learning must obtain prior approval from the Ministry of Education.