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Rapid health reforms underway as Egypt prepares for population boom: Report

Published: Updated:

A population boom, increased life expectancy and rising levels of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and obesity are putting pressure on Egypt’s health systems - with as many as 117,000 new hospital beds required by 2030, according to a new report by a regional advisory firm.

Rapid reforms are underway to boost Egypt’s healthcare sector according to Colliers International highlighting the challenges faced over the next decade. The report indicates that the country urgently needs to respond to changing demographics, and the growing burden of chronic diseases.

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Mansoor Ahmed, director of healthcare, education and PPP at advisory firm Colliers International, told Al Arabiya English: “Egypt’s healthcare sector is changing. It may lag behind its neighbors in the MENA region, but it is starting to catch up fast and that presents opportunities for investors.

“With population growth running at a rate of 2.5 percent per annum, demand for physical and social infrastructure, including healthcare and education services, is growing.”

Ahmed said one of the main challenges in the country - home to more than 100 million residents – is the number of hospital beds in the country.

“Egypt’s healthcare sector lags MENA both quantitively and qualitatively, but that needs to change. There is a demographic imperative. In 2019, there were 1.3 beds per 1,000 population compared to 1.9 beds for the overall MENA region but by 2030, according to analysis from Colliers, Egypt will require an estimated 38,500 to 117,000 new beds.”

This will come at a cost of as much as $40 billion at the highest estimates, said Ahmed.

The report also outlines the attractive investment opportunities that Egypt’s health market offers to overseas investors – promoted by the growing, and changing population.

Based on Colliers estimates, Egypt’s population is expected to grow from its current 101.6 million to 130 million by 2030 and 175 million by 2050, with the increase set to fuel demand for healthcare services.

Around 75 million (74 percent) of the current population is under the age of 40 and that cohort is expected to increase to 86 million by 2030 and 115 million by 2050.

Population growth in the over 60s will drive demand for geriatric services with long-term care, rehabilitation, and home care all essential. Presently there are 5.5 million over the age of 65, but this number is expected to increase to 7.7 million by 2030

The report also highlights that about 26 million babies will be born in Egypt over the next ten years creating huge demand for mother and childcare facilities and services, such as obstetrics, gynecology, and pediatrics.

Unprecedented rises in the incidences of lifestyle diseases will also fuel healthcare demand.

Globally, Egypt has one of the highest prevalence of lifestyle diseases with approximately 15 percent of the population over the age of 20 with diabetes, 32 percent with obesity and over 25 percent suffering from hypertension.

Non-communicable disease - including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and chronic respiratory disease are currently the leading national causes of deaths, accounting for approximately 82 percent of all deaths and 67 percent of premature deaths. Addressing them will add further pressure to the health system.

One of the biggest changes in Egypt’s population profile is an increase in life expectancy. This has increased from 46.8 years for males and 49.3 years for females in 1960 to 69.8 years and 72.6 years for males and females respectively in 2020. Life expectancy is predicted to continue rising and could reach 75 years for males and 79.3 years for females by 2050.

However, change is afoot to cope with the rising challenges, said Ahmed. Two years ago, Egypt launched its Universal Health Insurance (UHI) plan to reform the country’s fragmented healthcare system.

Egypt's Tourism and Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anani is shown a portable medical ventilator device while being toured by a medical worker at Sharm International Hospital in Egypt's Sinai resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh on June 19, 2020. (File photo: AFP)
Egypt's Tourism and Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anani is shown a portable medical ventilator device while being toured by a medical worker at Sharm International Hospital in Egypt's Sinai resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh on June 19, 2020. (File photo: AFP)

The comprehensive healthcare insurance scheme will cover all governorates by 2032, with implementation taking place over six phases, each phase focusing on a different geographic area.

In 2018, around 55.6 million of the population was insured.

The report outlined that Egypt is also primed for medical tourism, having earned “a strong regional reputation for having quality doctors and infrastructure at a competitive price.”

These factors have helped Egypt become a regional medical tourism hub, attracting tourists mainly from North, East, and West Africa and the GCC. This traffic helps increase utilization rates of existing healthcare facilities.

Regionally, and in Egypt specifically, there is also a new trend in developing healthcare and medical-driven mixed-use developments, known as ‘healthcare cities’ - a combination of retail, residential, commercial and hospitality developments working together to form a desirable destination.

“It is clear that rapid reforms are underway. COVID-19 may have put huge pressure on Egypt’s healthcare system, but the pandemic also provided an opportunity to strengthen it with reforms such as the implementation of a Universal Health Insurance (UHI) plan,” said Ahmed. “The emergence of the insurance market will have a significant impact on private healthcare and may also drive, as seen in many other markets, the need for more cost-effective practices and greater efficiencies

“Nonetheless, the longer-term success of Egypt’s healthcare sector depends on how quickly the market embraces new technologies and innovations, founded on global research and development (R&D) and adopts a data driven, patient-centric and results oriented approach to the industry.”

“Egypt’s healthcare sector, particularly the private healthcare sector, offers several lucrative opportunities for developers, investors, and operators. However, it also possesses several challenges, such as high costs of capital and a brain-drain of qualified doctors and paramedical staff to other GCC countries,” Ahmed concluded.

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