Demand for health services in the region is predicted to rise by 240 per cent over the next two decades, thanks to a mixture of population growth, rising life expectancy and higher rates of chronic diseases.

With the over-65s the fastest-growing age group in the Gulf, the need to increase bed capacity and build more hospitals is clear: four-fifths of a person’s healthcare needs typically come after retirement.

Alongside this changing demographic is the challenge presented by the explosion in so-called ‘ailments of affluence’ among the Gulf’s indigenous populations. Coronary illness and obesity-related diseases are generating a need for specialist hospitals. For example, levels of diabetes are due to triple by 2030, with the UAE the worst affected in the region, with the second-highest rate of type 2 diabetes in the world.

These challenges mean governments across the region will have to rethink their health policies to deal with the predicted rise in demand and costs.

The total cost of healthcare delivery in the Gulf will rise to nearly $60bn by 2025, five times the 2007 figure.

But while all the forecasts for disease and healthcare demand in the region involve large numbers, the Gulf’s per capita healthcare spending does not, and that is something that needs to change.

The GCC states devoted just 2-4 per cent of gross domestic product to the health sector in 2007, compared with an average of 8 per cent in Europe and 11.3 per cent in America, the largest spender globally.

Investment in healthcare needs to grow at the same rate as other sectors if the Gulf is not to be left behind.

That can only partly be addressed by the private sector, and governments are likely to find their own healthcare budgets will still come under increasing pressure in the years ahead.

Special Report page 31