Saudi Arabia’s Shock Therapy

BEIRUT – Saudi Arabia has long relied on oil to fuel its economic growth and development. Last year, oil accounted for about three-quarters of the Kingdom’s total export revenues and around 90% of government revenue. But the recent collapse in oil prices highlighted what should long have been clear: Saudi Arabia, like the other oil and gas rich nations of the Middle East, needs a more diverse development model.

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Beating America’s Health-Care Monopolists

BERKELEY – The United States’ Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Barack Obama’s signature 2010 health-care reform, has significantly increased the need for effective antitrust enforcement in health-insurance markets. Despite recent good news on this front, the odds remain stacked against consumers.

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SOS for China’s SOEs

BEIJING – China’s economic slowdown has been the subject of countless debates, discussions, articles, and analyses. While the proposed remedies vary considerably, there seems to be a broad consensus that the illness is structural. But while structural problems, from diminishing returns to capital to the rise in protectionism since the global economic crisis, are certainly acting as a drag on growth, another factor has gone largely unnoticed: the business cycle.

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Training the Middle East’s Future Health-Care Professionals

BOSTON – The Middle East’s public-health challenges are enormous, especially when one accounts for the region’s transient population of refugees and guest workers. The refugee population alone now numbers in the millions, and is straining health-care systems in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey nearly to the breaking point.

Affluent Gulf Cooperation Council countries would be mistaken to assume that they are exempt from their neighbors’ public-health problems. While GCC countries have made major improvements in hygiene and maternal and child health, they form the global epicenter of chronic non-communicable diseases – such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and, increasingly, cancer – that result from lifestyle and diet.

Worse still, GCC countries’ national health systems have a shortage of local clinicians and trained professionals working in local public-health services. This results in high turnover owing to overwork, and an increased need for foreign health-care workers to fill sorely needed positions. GCC policymakers have been right to focus on increasing access and subsidies for quality health care. But the fair distribution of health-care services across native and migrant populations is often a thorny policy issue. And now policymakers must also devote more attention to the health-care workforce itself, to ensure that it is properly educated and trained for the challenges that await the region.

Training programs in GCC national health systems today do not focus nearly enough on innovation or systems thinking to improve efficiency and effectiveness. If clinicians and health-care workers do not receive multidisciplinary training, they will be unequipped to recognize and address local public-health needs throughout the region. Specifically, to improve delivery of services and care, GCC countries will need to develop a new policy framework that spans both the education and public-health sectors.

Higher education has expanded rapidly in the Middle East over the past decade. Governments have created educational free-trade zones – such as the “Knowledge Villages” and “Education Cities” in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, respectively – and invested billions of dollars in new and existing universities, such as in Saudi Arabia. As a result, new universities, research institutions, and educational programs have attracted scholars and other professionals to the region.

However, too few local students – and far too few young men – are pursuing public-health careers. While the overall number of students studying public health is increasing, most come from outside the region, which will only intensify GCC countries’ current over-dependency on foreign workers.

Many of the region’s universities have put a premium on innovation, which bodes well for improving health-care services. But, though public health is a major regional challenge, so far universities have been placing far greater emphasis on subjects in engineering and technological fields.

Within health-care education itself, according to my own analysis of local institutions, students are learning to treat individual medical conditions, but they are not learning enough about larger public-health issues, and current curricula do not expose students to issues affecting refugees, migrants, or the wider population. While institutions such as Weill Cornell in Qatar and the Gulf University of Science and Technology in Kuwait have launched innovative research and training programs that focus on these types of health challenges, much more is needed.

Another problem is that the region’s education and training programs do not encourage enough systemic thinking. Worldwide, public-health policy is moving toward more multidisciplinary integration of engineering, medicine, social and management science, and the humanities. By not yet embracing an integrated approach, GCC institutions risk falling behind the global standard.

Technology and new approaches to public health are important; but they will be ineffective if they are not tailored to meet the real needs of local people. This is why GCC countries should encourage and invest in technological development at the local level, and create room for engineers to work with local public-health professionals. Such partnerships are necessary for confronting the infectious and chronic diseases that threaten communities throughout the region, and they have the added benefit of providing entrepreneurial opportunities for the region’s youth.

Middle Eastern countries need fully integrated, innovation-oriented frameworks for training health-care professionals, so that they can address their current public-health challenges and prepare for new, unexpected ones, such as Middle East respiratory syndrome (commonly referred to as MERS), Ebola, and other infectious diseases that can appear with little or no forewarning.

The Middle East’s population will continue to grow; but whether the region will also grow in global importance as a hub for trade and economic development will depend in part on its governments’ ability to reform public-health education and practice. Muhammad Hamid Zaman is a professor of biomedical engineering at Boston University.

By Muhammad Hamid Zaman

Market Myths and Social Facts

YORK – Many of us remember the 1970s for its music and fashion, but we should also take a lesson from its mistaken beliefs. Without easy access to data or analyses of social trends, some ideas about the workings of nature and society were completely backward. Today, we know things that were simply unknowable back then.

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On Antimicrobial Resistance, It’s Now or Never

LONDON – We often take it for granted that any infection we encounter can be cured, and that all-powerful modern medicine will do precisely what it is supposed to do.

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China’s Incomplete Growth Strategy

BEIJING – China’s economic growth has been slowing for six years – far longer than expected. Eager to stem the slide, Chinese government officials and economists have desperately sought a clear explanation pointing toward an effective policy response. And, last November, they officially placed the blame on long-term supply-side shortcomings, which they pledged to address with far-reaching structural reforms.

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Putting Profits in Perspective

BERKELEY – High profits are usually viewed as a sign of a company’s economic prowess, the result of innovation and efficiency forged by healthy competition. But, as a recent report by the US Council of Economic Advisers shows, high profits can have another cause: market concentration.

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The Islamic State’s European Strategy

LONDON – Terrorist attacks by Islamic State (ISIS) affiliates and sympathizers over the past year have raised alarms in Europe, but they have not yet reached the frequency Europe experienced in the 1970s, according to the Global Terrorism Database. However, whereas previous waves of terrorism in Europe stemmed from internal conflicts, today’s deadly surge is linked to instability outside the continent.

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On the Cusp of an AI Revolution

SAN FRANCISCO – Over the last 30 years, consumers have reaped the benefits of dramatic technological advances. In many countries, most people now have in their pockets a personal computer more powerful than the mainframes of the 1980s. The Atari 800XL computer that I developed games on when I was in high school was powered by a microprocessor with 3,500 transistors; the computer running on my iPhone today has two billion transistors. Back then, a gigabyte of storage cost $100,000 and was the size of a refrigerator; today it’s basically free and is measured in millimeters.

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