What regional markets currently present the best opportunity for growth in healthcare?
HAZARIAN: In general, Middle East markets have been inflating for the last 4 or 5 years. More specifically, the GCC markets are the main drivers for this growth. Within the GCC, Saudi Arabia is by far the leader and the one that is on the most ambitious development program in the healthcare sector. Things are really moving and Saudi Arabia is leading the way.
Where do you think the best investment opportunities are in the GCC's healthcare sector?
HAZARIAN: If you go by discipline, it will be oncology and neurology. Having said that, there are opportunities wherever there are tertiary care systems. There is opportunity in the specialized areas of each of the medical disciplines. So it is multi-fold, it is not just one specific discipline. The gap between the actual need is still large and there is a long way to go. I foresee that for the next 5 years there will still be major development in this sector. This is not going to stop, the projects are ongoing, and the 5-year plans will be fully occupied in these developments. I believe that the demand for a specialized approach will come after this period. So the 5 years following the next 5 years will be even greater. So healthcare will zoom into the specialized disciplines once the hospitals are built-out and these projects come alive. So things will keep going and keep moving forward. The level of the developments will be different after this period.
What new initiatives is AMICO involved in?
HAZARIAN: AMICO has two pillars that it stands on. One is the network; we are a local company, but we are regional. We have a presence in 15 countries throughout the Middle East. So this is one of the unique aspects. Equally important, if not more important, is the fact that we are not a jack-of-all-trades medical company. We are a specialized company in 6 or 7 disciplines and we have a very specialized approach. We select the areas where the local added value is intense. You need intense local support, you have to be close to your customers, you have to provide not only service support, but also education, skill transfer, and you have to develop a lot of programs that will allow the practitioners, physicians, and the ancillary medical staff to be trained properly and able to use the new technologies in an appropriate manner. So those are the two areas in which we excel and in which we have a strong presence.
What role should the private sector play in regional healthcare development?
HAZARIAN: Currently, the private sector is playing the smaller role. In the medium and long run this is bound to change. The private sector should play a larger role. If you look at the medical insurance sector, this is already driven by the private sector. Medical providers prefer to work with the private sector and not with the government. Also, the healthcare providers are developing their own facilities and they are gearing up to provide around 50% of the healthcare needs in the region. They have a big role to play and this will come in time. The governments cannot keep on subsidizing, it has to be market driven and the private sector is best suited to take that over.
It’s not a matter of the number of beds, it is the quality of what happens in those hospitals. For example, let’s take spinal cases. There is a 1 in 20 waiting list in Saudi Arabia; meaning for every 20 cases that need surgery, there is only one that can get admitted for spinal surgery. So the gap is big between the needs and the supply. This example applies in many other areas as well.
Are we currently on track to meeting regional treatment demand?
HAZARIAN: It’s not a matter of the number of beds, it is the quality of what happens in those hospitals. For example, let’s take spinal cases. There is a 1 in 20 waiting list in Saudi Arabia; meaning for every 20 cases that need surgery, there is only one that can get admitted for spinal surgery. So the gap is big between the needs and the supply. This example applies in many other areas as well. Wherever there is tertiary healthcare needs, you will find a large gap and this is the area that needs to be developed. This is what I was referring to earlier. Once the facilities are set up, they need to work to cover these gaps and these areas. So the business will keep on booming, but in a different manner. It is not only for building hospitals and increasing beds, but what will be done in those hospitals later on. One of the drawbacks is the lack of qualified medical staff. You need qualified surgeons, qualified physicians, but you also need ancillary medical staff. They all go hand in hand. So there is a big job in terms of skill transfer, experience, and human resource development in the medical field.