Health is one of the main pillars of development. Societies that suffer from diseases and epidemics cannot progress far in the development process. Better health contributes to well-being, sustainable development and economic growth. While the third goal of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) explicitly focuses on health, there are at least 5 other goals that are health-related.[1]


The Arab region has achieved remarkable improvement in the health sector as a result of technological innovations and human ingenuity.[1] For instance, life expectancy increased from 47 years in 1960 to 72 years in 2019, compared to a worldwide average life expectancy rising from 50 years in 1960 to 73 years during the same period. Furthermore, under five mortality rate in the Arab region has significantly decreased from an average of 81.2 per 1000 live births in 1990 to 37 per 1000 in 2017.[2]


Most Arab countries are malaria-free and poliomyelitis-free and the immunization against poliomyelitis, measles and hepatitis exceeded 86 percent in the region in 2017.[3] Nonetheless, malaria still poses a threat in Arab LDC countries, namely Mauritania, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, ranging between 37 per 1,000 people at risk in Somalia to 54 per 1,000 people at risk in Mauritania in 2017.[4]


Despite the remarkable progress at the regional level, some Arab countries continue to face several challenges in the health sector. Clear disparities also persist across the countries. As in the case in many countries, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) represent the main challenge facing health in the Arab region as a whole. NCDs are estimated to account for a rate higher than 70% of all deaths in 11 out of 21 Arab countries, ranging between 24% in Somalia to 91% in Lebanon. Bad habits such as smoking, lack of physical activity, obesity and unhealthy diets are considered to be the cause factors for the prevalence of NCDs in Arab countries.[3]


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 percent 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.[5]


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 June 2019.

[1] World Health Organization. 2019. World Health Statistics 2019: Monitoring Health for the SDGs. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 27 June 2019].

[2] The World Bank. 2019. World Development Indicators. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 27 June 2019].

[3] World Health Organization. 2018. Noncommunicable diseases and mental health. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 25 July 2019].
[4] The World Bank. 2017. Sustainable Development Goals Database. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 25 July 2019].

[5] Rashad, A.S. and Sharaf, M.F. 2015. Catastrophic Economic Consequences of Healthcare Payments: Effects on Poverty Estimates in Egypt, Jordan, and Palestine. Economies. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed on 27 June 2019].

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Data Highlights

  • All countries from WHO's Eastern Mediterranean Region (which contains all Arab countries except Algeria, Mauritania and Comoros) collectively approved the UHC2030 Global Compact. 

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