Saudi Arabia country overview

Saudi Arabia Government

Saudi information index

Welfare and health of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has a well-established national health care system that offers free services through government agencies. The country has been recognized as one of the top 26 nations in terms of providing high-quality healthcare. The Ministry of Health is the primary government agency responsible for delivering preventive, curative, and rehabilitative care. Its origins can be traced back to 1925 when regional health departments were first established, starting with Makkah. Over time, these healthcare institutions were merged to form a ministerial body in 1950. To promote excellence, the Health Ministry introduced a friendly competition among districts, medical services, and hospitals. This initiative led to the launch of the “Ada’a” project in 2016, a nationwide performance indicator for services and hospitals. As a result, waiting times and other key measurements significantly improved across the kingdom.

To address unhealthy lifestyle choices, the ministry has developed a new strategy called the Diet and Physical Activity Strategy (DPAS). As part of this strategy, the ministry recommended an increase in taxes on unhealthy food, beverages, and cigarettes. The additional tax revenue could then be utilized to enhance healthcare offerings. This tax was implemented in 2017. Additionally, calorie labels were introduced in 2019 on certain food and drink products, and ingredient lists were provided to help reduce obesity and assist individuals with health issues in managing their diet. In line with the ongoing efforts to combat obesity, women-only gyms were permitted to open in 2017, offering sports activities such as bodybuilding, running, and swimming to promote better health standards.

Smoking is prevalent across all age groups in Saudi Arabia. A study conducted in 2009 revealed that the lowest percentage of smokers was among university students (~13.5%), while the highest was among elderly individuals (~25%). The study also found that the median percentage of male smokers was significantly higher than that of females (~26.5% for males, ~9% for females). Prior to 2010, Saudi Arabia had no policies in place to ban or restrict smoking.

The Ministry of Health has received “Healthy City” certificates from the World Health Organization (WHO) for the cities of Unayzah and Riyadh Al Khabra, ranking them as the 4th and 5th Healthy Cities in Saudi Arabia. Earlier, the WHO classified three Saudi Arabian cities, namely Ad Diriyah, Jalajil, and Al-Jamoom, as “Healthy Cities” under the WHO Healthy Cities Program. Recently, Al-Baha has also been recognized as a healthy city, joining the list of global healthy cities approved by the World Health Organization.

In May 2019, the former Saudi Minister of Health, Tawfiq bin Fawzan AlRabiah, received a global award on behalf of the Kingdom for its efforts in combating smoking through social awareness, treatment, and the implementation of regulations. This recognition was presented during the 72nd session of the World Health Assembly held in Geneva. Saudi Arabia was one of the first nations to ratify the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2005 and aims to reduce tobacco use from 12.7% in 2017 to 5% by 2030.

According to the latest data from the World Bank in 2018, Saudi Arabia has a life expectancy of 74.99 years (73.79 for males and 76.61 for females). The infant mortality rate in 2019 was 5.7 per 1000 births. In 2016, 69.7% of the adult population was overweight, and 35.5% was classified as obese.

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