Saudi Arabia’s health care industry coping with demand
I must admit that the COVID-19 crisis has had a positive side-effect on Saudi Arabia’s medical industry because, despite the pandemic’s severity, it has led to gains that will serve this sector in the long-term.
The most important outcomes of this crisis have been the reactivation of the health care and medical supplies industries, the prioritization of having a strong local industry, and building up confidence in Saudi factories, which have proven capable of meeting the urgent needs and demands of the local market since the start of this crisis.
At the beginning of the pandemic local pharmacies struggled to meet the demand for face masks, even though no cases of coronavirus had been reported in the Kingdom at that time. To address that problem Saudi factories worked hard, some on triple shifts, to provide abundant supplies of preventive products such as masks, sanitizers and other items.
According to recent statistics by the Saudi Food & Drug Authority, local factories have been producing 3.7 million face masks per week to help protect citizens and residents from the coronavirus. Concerns about a worldwide shortage of sanitizers, face masks, and ventilators – all essential in the fight against COVID-19 – has pushed the Kingdom to increase its efforts to locally produce these items.
Currently, over 49 factories in Saudi Arabia produce more than 1.5 million liters of sanitizer. As expected, the country stopped exporting all medical devices when the pandemic broke out in Saudi Arabia to ensure its hospitals were equipped to handle a large number of patients, when needed.
Saudi pharma manufacturing holds an important position in achieving the goals set out in the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan. The government is working toward strengthening localized pharmaceutical manufacturing. Only 20 percent of the pharma market is currently locally manufactured, while 80 percent is imported. Hence there is a great opportunity for international medical suppliers and biopharma companies to explore forming strategic alliances and partnerships with local players to serve the Saudi market in different areas, from assembling mobile screening labs to producing the successfully tried and approved vaccines.
Nobody knows how long this pandemic will last. Saudi health care services, industrial and trading, will continue their efforts to deliver what is needed for local consumption. Furthermore, the government has pledged billions of dollars in stimulus packages to support the private sector, including local medical and biopharma companies, to carry on with business successfully.
Basil M.K. Al-Ghalayini is the chairman and CEO of BMG Financial Group.