Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Healthcare and alternative medicine in Saudi Arabia

My earlier post (click here) on healthcare in Saudi Arabia drew an enthusiastic response from readers that I decided to do a follow-up article on the same.

Expatriates working in Saudi Arabia must realize that health care in the kingdom doesn't come cheap. It has been now made mandatory that all sponsors must necessarily obtain health insurance for their employees. I had written a separate article on this earlier (click here). Though this is a welcome move, there are certain issues which need to be attended to urgently. For example, if the sponsor does not obtain the health insurance on time, the employee's passport will not be stamped with an exit/reentry visa nor will his iqama be renewed. In other words, the employee has to suffer for the fault of his sponsor. But the trauma does not end there. Without an insurance card, the employee would have to shell out a huge amount to the hospital in case of sickness / hospitalization.

It is not uncommon to see both Saudis as well as expats go to other countries to have certain important surgeries done. No, it is not that there aren't enough facilities here. It is just that top-notch specialists who perform certain critical surgeries are available abroad and at relatively cheaper prices! Some oriental countries have grabbed this opportunity to start what is now fashionably known as medical tourism!

Expatriates working in Saudi Arabia must realize that alternative forms of medicine are neither recognized not encouraged by the Government. The only form of medicine legally allowed is Allopathy. Homoeopathy, Ayurveda, Accupuncture and the like are legally not permitted. What is rather surprising is that certain traditional forms of therapy still exist in some parts of the kingdom, albeit illegally. One such therapy involves piercing the skin on the neck to remove the "impure" blood. This kind of treatment is popular among certain sections of Saudis, particularly in the western coast. The effectiveness and safety of this therapy is still a controversial topic, but the fact remains that a lot of people do trust this therapy and claim to have obtained relief.

It is quite common for expats, particularly those from the East, to bring their own traditional medicines while coming back from vacation. Of course, the risk of such medicines being confiscated at the airports is always there, but these expats do not care as long as there is relief from pain! The surprising part is that alternative therapies such as Ayurveda is not only legally allowed in neighbouring Bahrain, there are even full-fledged pharmacies existing which sell traditional medication. So, when it is legally allowed in Bahrain, why not here?

It is time the authorities reconsidered their policy and allowed other forms of medicines to legally operate in the kingdom. Let the patients decide which one is best for themselves.