Clare Roche, Market Advisor for Middle East & North Africa at Enterprise Ireland, describes the enormous opportunity for Irish exporters in the MENA region.
If you look past the 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 $150 billion by 2020, according to Deloitte.
In January, 20 Irish companies participated at Arab Health, the largest healthcare exhibition and conference in the region, and the second largest such event in the world. Arab Health has become a strategically important event that enables established companies in the region to build on their existing market presence and gives new companies and high-potential start-ups a holistic overview of the market environment and opportunities, as well as providing access to key players and potential partners.
Middle East healthcare challenges and opportunities
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 in the region are injecting large funds, while encouraging collaboration with companies in the private sector, to build new hospitals and clinics and update existing infrastructure. There are currently almost 350 hospital projects under development in the region, of which nearly 70 projects are worth more than $100 million each. (Source: Alpen Capital)
The United Arab Emirates (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. Ireland is recognised as a Centre of Excellence for world-class innovation and Irish companies already have a strong track record across the Middle East, particularly in sub-sectors such as medical devices, health IT, and diagnostics.
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 (AI) 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 were Aerogen, who opened their 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, comments, “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 their range of products in Life Pharmacy, the UAE’s largest pharmacy chain with 130+ outlets across the country.
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, 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 lesser 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 $3.2 billion. 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.
This article was originally published in the Sunday Independent.