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For 38-year-old Yemeni Khairy Aly Mohamed El Ramady, receiving dialysis twice a week was the difference between life or death. He typically received treatment for permanent kidney failure in his hometown of Hodeida, at the only public facility in the entire city. But the ongoing conflict in Yemen left the center severely overstretched and short of hemodialysis solution. In June, he was told he would have to wait at least a week for treatment. But that would be too late.

El Ramady was then referred to Saudi German Hospital (SGH) in Sana’a, which is responding to requests for medical support from the United Nations and others. It was an arduous journey of over 200 kilometers, but the medical professionals at SGH treated him successfully. The hospital also arranged to cover his payments, since he had lost his job due to the war—and he is responsible for a family of 11 people.

El Ramady is one of over 1 million patients the SGH hospital in Yemen has treated since it opened in 2006. Its parent company, the SGH Group, owns 10 hospitals with about 2,500 beds in four countries across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. It all started with a 300-bed general hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Since then, the SGH Group has established five hospitals in Saudi Arabia, three in the United Arab Emirates, one in Egypt, and one in Yemen. The network of facilities treated almost 1.8 million patients last year.

IFC played a catalytic role in SGH’s regional expansion with two investments consisting of a blend of loans and equity totaling $75 million. It was the first investment for IFC that complied with Sharia Law. Since 2007, IFC has supported the construction and equipping of two multi-specialty hospitals, each with 300 beds, in Sana’a, Yemen, and Cairo, Egypt. The SGH network is currently expanding to Morocco and Pakistan.

Khairy Aly Mohamed El Ramady is one of over 1 million patients treated at the SGH hospital in Yemen since it opened in 2006.

Elevating Standards of Care

A commitment to raising the standard of care has compelled the SGH network’s growth since the first hospital was founded in 1988 by two Saudi Arabian brothers, Sobhi Batterjee and Khalid Batterjee. Khalid Batterjee, a doctor, had studied in Germany and wanted to bring the quality care he saw in Europe back to people who would otherwise lack access or would have to travel abroad for treatment.

Today, the SGH Group provides primary, secondary, and tertiary services in over 50 treatment areas ranging from prenatal to end-of-life care. It owns and operates an ecosystem of medical centers, clinics, laboratories, radiology centers, pharmacies, as well as rehabilitation and physiotherapy centers. It also offers free-of-charge services to the community, including programs in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, rehabilitation for drug abuse, and maternal and child health.

Through a visiting doctor program, SGH brings physicians from across the globe to treat patients and enhance its own clinicians’ continuing medical education. The program has enabled SGH to introduce to the region modern medical approaches in highly specialized areas, with less invasive techniques that have lower complication rates and faster recovery times. The SGH Group has also has established a medical college.

A culture of going “above and beyond the call of duty” is deeply ingrained within SGH staff, according to Sobhi Batterjee, who trained as an engineer. “We decided to enter the Yemeni market to serve the community,” he says. “People refuse to go to underdeveloped countries because it costs more to bring talent and technology and to operate, but we are passionate about relieving suffering even if it is treating patients at cost.”

Yet, SGH Group, the largest private sector health-care provider in MENA, is profitable. In 2017, it recorded revenues of nearly $600 million. Growth of the SGH network has offered the benefits of scale to countries in the region. That benefits medical practitioners and staff as well as patients: the network has 7,400 employees, of whom 3,000 are women—including one female hospital chief executive officer.

Prioritizing the Underserved

SGH has focused its efforts on a severely underserved region. The average bed per 1,000 people of the MENA region is 1.0, compared with 4.3 in high-income countries. Significant additional investment, with some estimates placing it at $1.2 trillion, will be required to alleviate this.

To address the gap on an even larger scale, in 2018 the SGH Group launched Humania Capital, a health-care investment company that will extend capital and expertise to third-party health-care providers in emerging markets in MENA and beyond.

The pace of expansion has not diverted attention from those most in need—like El Ramady, who was treated for his kidney failure. “Although SGH Sana’a is already in a critical situation with regards to diesel, medical, surgical supplies, and food, management decided to extend our support to the people of Hodeida at this dire time,” says Abdullah Hussein Al-Dairi, chief executive officer of the hospital. “We are ready to support them with all we have.”

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Published in September 2018