Health is one of the main pillars of development. Societies that suffer from diseases and epidemics cannot progress far in the development process. Humanity has achieved remarkable progress in health as a result of technological innovations and human ingenuity. For example, average life expectancy worldwide has risen from 48 years in 1950 to 71 years in 2015. The Arab region did not lag behind the rest of the world and has made clear progress in a number of health and health-related outcomes. For instance, average life expectancy in the Arab region increased from 58.5 years in 1980 to 70.6 years in 2015. The Arab countries have made progress in increasing access to improved sanitation facilities from 66% in 1990 to 90% by 2015. In addition, child mortality in the Arab region has significantly decreased from an average of 131 per 1000 live births in 1980 to 36.8 per 1000 in 2015. Moreover, access to potable water has risen from 82% in 1990 to 92% in 2015. Most Arab countries are malaria-free and poliomyelitis-free and the immunization against poliomyelitis has exceeded 85% in the region.
Nevertheless, despite the remarkable progress at the regional level, Arab countries continue to face several challenges in the health sector, and there are clear disparities across the countries. The Arab region is quite diverse, and the health needs vary across countries. The Arab countries can be divided into three categories according to the population health outcomes, the healthcare system performance and the level of healthcare expenditure. The first category comprises the rich oil-producing and high-income countries; the second comprises middle-income countries that have been able to invest extensively in healthcare and improve its outcomes but that face financial constraints; and the third category comprises low-income countries that face great difficulties in improving main health outcomes.
As is the case in many countries, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) represent the main challenge facing health in the Arab region as a whole. Half of all deaths in the Arab world are caused by NCDs and 60% of existing diseases in the Arab world are NCDs. Bad habits such as smoking, lack of physical activity, obesity, unhealthy diets are considered to be the cause factors for the prevalence of NCDs in Arab countries. Inequities in health and access to healthcare remain a challenge in middle-income and low-income countries. Lack of public expenditure on the healthcare system in middle-income and poor countries is one of the main problems facing the healthcare sector. For example, roughly 60% of expenditures on healthcare in Egypt come from out-of-pocket payments, resulting in the impoverishment of many families or waiving healthcare, which puts citizens in a vicious circle of poor health and poverty.
Following the outbreak of revolutions and civil wars in 2011, some Arab countries witnessed a decline in health outcomes. Average life expectancy in Libya dropped by six years for women and nine years for men. In Tunisia and Yemen, average life expectancy dropped by 0.25 years between 2010 and 2013. The biggest decline was in countries ravaged by conflicts which include Syria, Yemen and Iraq. In addition, the influx of refugees has debilitated the healthcare systems in Lebanon and Jordan. On the other hand, other countries have continued to make progress. Despite political turmoil, Egypt, Jordan, Sudan and Morocco were able to improve most health outcomes such as child mortality and life expectancy rates according to the World Development Indicators (the World Bank).
Arab countries have proven that they are capable of improving the health of their populations. For progress to continue, it is necessary to put an end to conflicts and wars, to build a universal health insurance system in the Arab region, to fight smoking and obesity and to encourage a healthy lifestyle.
This overview has been drafted by the ADP team based on most available data as of 15 December 2016.