Business World

Thursday 20 September 2018

Middle East's health sector a good match for Irish innovation

Among the success stories at this year's Arab Health event was Aerogen, which opened its first Middle East commercial office in Dubai. Photo: Bloomberg
Among the success stories at this year's Arab Health event was Aerogen, which opened its first Middle East commercial office in Dubai. Photo: Bloomberg

Clare Roche

If you look past headlines about fluctuating oil prices and political instability that tend to dominate global coverage of the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region, you will find a growing healthcare sector in which spending is expected to reach $150bn (€122bn) by 2020, according to Deloitte.

In January, 20 Irish companies participated at Arab Health, the largest healthcare exhibition and conference in the region. Arab Health has become a strategically important event that enables established companies in the region to build on their market presence and provides new companies and high-potential startups with an holistic overview of the market environment and opportunities, as well as providing access to key players and potential partners.

The MENA region faces a variety of healthcare challenges, including the provision of sufficient hospital and primary care facilities to its growing population, and the prevalence of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular conditions. Governments are spending large amounts of money, while encouraging collaboration with companies in the private sector, to build new hospitals and clinics and update infrastructure. There are almost 350 hospital projects under development in the region, according to Alpen Capital.

The UAE and wider MENA region offer a dynamic market in which demand for new solutions complements the innovative products and services of Irish companies.

The continued expansion of the healthcare sector in the Middle East, in particular, offers a number of exciting opportunities for Irish companies.

With a predominately import-based medical device market, there is a strong preference for European-made products and technology. As the only English-speaking member still committed to the EU, more and more Middle East-based healthcare organisations are turning to Ireland as a trusted source of innovative medical solutions. There is also a strong appetite for new and disruptive technologies, particularly in areas such as artificial intelligence and robotics. Ireland is regarded across the region as a world leader in development in these fields.

Among the success stories at this year's Arab Health event was Aerogen, which opened its first Middle East commercial office in Dubai. Aerogen is seeing growing demand in many markets but has seen outstanding growth across the entire Gulf region.

John Power, Aerogen CEO and founder, said: "There's a really great opportunity for us in the Middle East. It is an extremely important market for Aerogen and we look forward to strengthening our commitment here over the coming years." Irish skincare company Ovelle Pharmaceuticals also officially launched its range of products in the UAE's largest pharmacy chain.

Irish companies interested in pursuing opportunities should be aware that the region's healthcare environment is highly competitive.

The time frame and commitment required to secure a first contract or establish a market presence can be extensive.

Preparation, patience and perseverance are key to success. Relationships are important and 'wasta' (an Arabic word meaning connections or influence) can go a long way, with a trusted and local partner often essential to doing business.

Traditionally, the focus for Irish companies entering the market has centred on the UAE and Saudi Arabia. However, we are also seeing growing opportunities for Irish companies in less-developed markets, such as Oman, Jordan and Kuwait.

With a rapidly developing economy, Oman has a number of high-profile hospital projects in the pipeline valued at over $3.2bn.

Enterprise Ireland is also increasing activity in Egypt, the second largest economy in the Arab world, with a population of 95 million and a strong demand for life sciences and pharmaceutical technologies.

Clare Roche is market advisor for Middle East & North Africa at Enterprise Ireland

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