Scaling Up Universal Health Coverage and Containing Non-Communicable Diseases in the Middle East and North Africa: Challenges, Linkages and Strategies

February 12, 2015

KUWAIT CITY, February 12, 2015 – Addressing the twin challenges of scaling up universal health coverage (UHC) and containing non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is the focus of a five-day policy seminar sponsored by the World Bank in coordination with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Middle East Center for Economics and Finance (CEF).

The policy seminar brings together 37 senior level representatives from Ministries of Health, Finance, and Planning and health agencies in the MENA region, as well as representatives from academia and non- governmental organizations. Presentations by World Bank specialists with expert contributions from World Health Organization (WHO), Johns Hopkins University, US Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), are geared towards familiarizing policy makers and participants with global and regional experiences in scaling up universal health coverage and containing non-communicable diseases.

“The World Bank is pleased to be hosting this policy seminar in Kuwait for such a wide-ranging and high-level group of health officials from the MENA region,” said Bassam Ramadan, World Bank Country Manager in Kuwait. “The rising burden of non-communicable diseases and the growing momentum towards expanding health coverage in the region make this seminar highly relevant and timely. It provides an open venue for all participants to share national experiences and lessons learned about two topics dominating the health reform agendas of many countries.” 

Specific topics covered in the workshop include health financing trends in the MENA region, UHC country experiences, supply-side readiness for implementing UHC, global and regional trends in the burden of non-communicable diseases and injuries. The seminar is part of an annual series of knowledge-sharing events organized by the World Bank and the IMF in Kuwait. Oussama Kanaan, Director of the IMF Middle East Center for Economics and Finance in Kuwait, which hosted the policy seminar, discussed in his opening remarks the increased emphasis the IMF has placed in recent years on "inclusive development," in which building a strong health care system benefiting all segments of society is a key component.

More than 36 million people die each year from NCDs, and around 80 percent of these deaths are in low- and middle-income countries.  “The rapid shifts in disease burden towards NCDs place poor people in these countries at higher risk of not having access to appropriate services and incurring payments for health care that push them deeper into poverty,” said Tim Evans, Senior Director for Health, Nutrition and Population at the World Bank Group, and one of the seminar participants. “To help address this challenge, the World Bank is supporting countries around the world to achieve UHC by 2030, using our global knowledge, country programs and financial support.”

The challenge for MENA countries is how to expand health coverage schemes to cover everyone, provide a range of quality health services, and protect them financially – in the face of a burgeoning NCD crisis. The GCC countries have some of the highest rates of obesity and diabetes prevalence in the world. In 2030, NCDs will account for around 87 percent of all deaths in GCC countries and around 81 percent in in-non-GCC states. 

“Among the most pressing health system challenges in the MENA region are inadequacies in health coverage and a spiraling NCD epidemic, particularly in the GCC region,” said Enis Barış, World Bank Practice Manager for Health, Nutrition and Population in the MENA region. “The World Bank can support MENA countries tackle these twin challenges through financial mechanisms, analytical work, and knowledge sharing about global experience.” 

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