Specialized healthcare for women in Saudi Arabia is comparable to that is available in the Western world. Despite the slightly limited role of women in economic and commercial activity, ex-pat women will find they are well taken care of in their health matters.
This article helps to guide and provides information about women’s healthcare in Saudi Arabia.
Healthcare for Women
All persons, women especially, when moving to Saudi Arabia, need to adjust to rules governing when they can go to the malls to where and when they can drive. These rules can sometimes appear vague and can affect the type of quality and access that ex-pats have to women’s general healthcare in Saudi Arabia. However, the bright side of all this is that as Saudi Arabia hires international professionals extensively, the healthcare professionals you will come across mainly speak English. Therefore, you won’t have any issues with communication.
The Saudi government has made heavy investments in its healthcare system, importing the most high-tech machines and bringing in the most skilled international medical professionals. With some variation of quality of care, you will generally experience healthcare at par with any developed country.
The one challenge that the Saudi health system faces is the chronic shortage of medical staff. With an increase in life expectancy and a rising population, Saudi Arabia is always bringing in the best doctors and other staff to meet the system’s demands.
Women’s healthcare and its Challenges
The cultural segregation of Saudi Arabia affects the speed at which healthcare can be availed in the Kingdom. The women in the Kingdom tend to suffer from vitamin D deficiency as they cover their bodies from the sun, and exercise isn’t always a priority given the intense sun. These reasons combined have caused a rise in Hypertension, diabetes, and other inactivity-related illnesses. The strict adherence to gender segregation sometimes could affect the speed of healthcare access; an example, male paramedics may not enter an all-female space leaving the female patients to wait for female paramedics. Though this won’t happen every day – or even ever, but it is an essential factor to keep in mind.
Access to women’s healthcare
Women-specific healthcare services in Saudi Arabia are offered at specialty clinics or within larger hospitals and healthcare centers. Do your research and check recommendations before picking a particular care provider. Generally, more prominent public hospitals with their larger budgets offer some of the best care.
Healthcare Insurance for women’s
Health insurance is a requirement and is dependant on the ex-pat’s job contract. As detailed earlier, certain aspects of healthcare may not be covered by your policy, for example, maternity costs; this will depend on the insurance policy you have. You must have an insurance policy well suited to your future needs. Although public hospitals are free and for locals only, they also have some of the most specialized care and can be available to ex-pats, requiring them to pay the necessary fees.
Finding the gynecologist, one that you will be comfortable with, is essential in any country. Here in Saudi Arabia, you have to go through your insurance company and, if for some reason the policy finalization takes time, then for your urgent needs, you can still visit the doctor but will need to pay cash to be seen. Therefore, there are many options available; we advise that you ask within your ex-pat network or online forums for recommendations for choosing a care provider. Ensure they accept your insurance, and you should be able to make an appointment directly with them.
Contraception and Women’s health
Practicing birth control is permitted in the Kingdom, though availability may vary depending on the city and the pharmacist. The most common option available is the pill, followed by the male condom and Intrauterine Device (IUD). Some pharmacies may require a prescription for the pill, and it is always better to get one. However, you are more than likely to find pharmacists who won’t ask for the prescription in cities like Jeddah and Riyadh.
The morning after pill
This emergency contraception is available by prescription only, and although doctors will prescribe it, only a few pharmacies carry these. Some women have been known to use high doses of ‘the pill’ to serve as an emergency contraceptive; Doctors do not recommend this.
With widely available prenatal care, childbirth in Saudi Arabia will look much as it would in your home country. Mothers-to-be must double-check their insurance cover for childbirth costs, as hospital fees can often be exorbitant. Private insurance can allow you to choose a doctor or a hospital of your choice, so get referrals from friends and trusted medical professionals when deciding where to give birth.
There aren’t any numbers or surveys on breastfeeding practices in Saudi Arabia; perhaps these aren’t even required as the Quran does dictate that mothers should breastfeed for the first two years of a child’s life. A recent study has found that about 80% of new mothers were aware of breastfeeding due to their religious obligation and medical practitioners. Breastfeeding has always been accepted as an essential and best practice in the region. However, it is not recommended to breastfeed in public or at places where men and women are not segregated.
Fertility treatments were once a highly stigmatized matter in the Middle East. This stigma has faded, and as education levels rise and those in need of this specialized intervention are turning to fertility clinics. Saudi Arabia is a leader within the Gulf and offers In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), and Intrauterine Insemination (IUI). Generally, these fertility clinics are private and charge fees.
Abortion Laws in Saudi Arabia
Abortion is legal in Saudi Arabia whenever it is necessary to protect the well-being and safety of the mother. There are, however, enough contradictions, in the form of multiple legal decrees, to make access almost impossible. A male guardian’s approval is necessary to get an abortion and fulfill other requirements such as gestation and the reason for seeking termination.
Getting an abortion in Saudi Arabia
Obtaining legal permission for an abortion can be challenging, and for this reason, some women will resort to drugs or other substances to self-induce the abortion. Ex-pats will usually choose to go to their home country – or abortion-friendly countries like India, Turkey, or Greece for an abortion.
Menopause, as an understudied area of women’s health in Saudi Arabia. Although studies have been conducted on the subject, there are no menopause-specific clinics on offer. If you are seeking advice and support during this period, your questions will be best answered by your doctor.
Screening for cervical cancer is relatively straightforward; it requires a Pap and/or HPV test. This procedure usually requires around 15 minutes, and depending on your doctor’s recommendation, it should be done every three to five years. As always, make sure you have checked your insurance to confirm it covers the cost of the screening.
Screening for Breast cancer
Breast cancer is the ninth most common cause of death for Saudi women, and the government is taking this matter very seriously. Breast cancer screenings are available free of cost for the local population. If you require a screening, begin checking what all your insurance covers and then setting an appointment with your medical service provider. Fortunately for ex-pats, most insurance policies cover part or all of the costs associated with detecting and treating this disease. Many ex-pats choose to stay in Saudia as they battle cancer as ex-pats can easily access the best quality cancer treatment facilities, from radiotherapy to mastectomy.
Screening for Ovarian cancer
Unfortunately, there is no early screening of ovarian cancer until you start to experience symptoms. As there is no test, you must ensure regular visits to your gynecologist and pay attention to any possible signs. If and whenever something feels different, unusual, or painful, be sure to consult it with your doctor.
Cost and availability of feminine hygiene products
Feminine hygiene products are readily available in Saudi Arabia. This, however, may not be the case in smaller cities and towns, with tampons and especially tampons with applicators, which could be challenging to find. Ex-pats with special needs like pure cotton pads, menstruation cups, etc., are advised to bring these along with them in bulk.
Women’s clinics and healthcare centers
The government in Saudi Arabia has always invested heavily in its public healthcare system. Therefore top-quality specialty care is readily available at public institutions, and clinics dedicated to women’s healthcare are not exceptions to this rule. Ex-pats interested in women’s health centers can check out the following:
Mental healthcare for Women
Saudi Arabia has begun removing the stigma associated with mental health. With as many as 2,000 psychiatrists and psychologists in the country, the Kingdom has built an extensive hospital-based mental health care system in the country. That said, therapists and women support groups are hard to come by outside of the hospital system.
Discussions on eating disorders in Saudi Arabia can be a socially awkward topic in much of the world. There have not been any significant studies or national campaigns in efforts to spread awareness on the subject. A recent study at Taif University found that 35% of female students questioned were at risk of an eating disorder.
If you are looking for an eating disorder support group, you should look within your ex-pat networks and ask your medical provider.
In general, Saudi Arabia offers modern, safe, and effective healthcare for women; the services on offer are consistent and world-class.