A brief history of healthcare
in Saudi Arabia

The MIT Jameel Clinic was founded in 2018 as a partnership between Community Jameel and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The clinic partners with King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre (KFSHRC) in Saudi Arabia.

The partnership enables the deployment of the Clinic's breast and lung cancer prediction technologies Mirai and Sybil for clinical AI research in Saudi Arabia, and promotes the mission of enhancing patient care, improving clinical outcomes and reducing healthcare costs through the use of AI.

As the MIT Jameel Clinic expands to Saudi Arabia, this collection of moments in the kingdom's healthcare history reflects a tradition of investments in infrastructural development, education and training, public campaigns and policies that contribute to Saudi Arabia's status as a regional leader in healthcare innovation today.

Traditional healers and health practices

Most inhabitants of Saudi Arabia seek local, traditional healers for treatment of various health issues. Commonly prescribed traditional practices include ingesting specific herbs and teas and cautery. [ref]

The Ottoman Hospital in Mecca, established before the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s founding, provides healthcare services for hajj pilgrims. [ref]


Ottoman Hospital, Mecca, early 1900s. [ref]

Directorate for Public Health established

King Abdulaziz establishes the Directorate for Public Health in Mecca. The directorate serves as the cornerstone of the kingdom’s healthcare system with a mission to promote health and safety during the hajj season.

The directorate publishes a series of announcements and articles in 1925, 1926 and 1930 related to symptoms, causes and preventable measures of communicable diseases and carries out early public vaccination campaigns. [ref],[ref]

Public vaccination campaign. [ref]

Health and Emergency Department established

King Abdulaziz issues a royal decree for the establishment of the Health and Emergency Department (HED). The newly founded department includes doctors, a general inspector, a chief pharmacist and various administrative employees. It is tasked with promoting public and environmental health, legislating policies and practices for public safety, promoting medical standards and establishing hospitals and healthcare centres. [ref],[ref]

Advent of radiology as a local specialisation

The kingdom installs its first X-ray machine in Mecca, following Dr Mohamed Khalid Kashoggi’s graduation and certification as the first Saudi radiologist. [ref]

Dr Mohamed Khalid Kashoggi presenting an award during a ceremony in Beirut, Lebanon. [ref]

Development of healthcare facilities 

Between 1926-1949, 25 clinics, 35 health centres and 11 hospitals are established throughout Saudi Arabia, and a microbiology institute opens in Ta’if. [ref]

Ministry of Health established

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health is established. Prince Abdullah bin Faisal serves as the Kingdom’s first Minister of Health. [ref]

Ministry of Health, Riyadh. [ref]

School healthcare curriculum

School health units are introduced, providing curative services and services related to immunisation, counselling and health lectures. [ref]

In 1998 school health services and curricula are expanded to cover female schools in rural and urban areas. Preventative services by general physicians, dentists, nurses and health educators are offered to promote a healthy lifestyle including information on nutrition and a balanced diet, dental health, personal health and hygiene, smoking cessation, physical activity, safety, injury prevention and mental health. [ref]

Young Saudi students give a presentation about oral health as part of a school curriculum to promote healthy lifestyle and preventative health measures (2007). [ref]

Prince Talal bin Abdulaziz Hospital established

Prince Talal bin Abdulaziz Hospital, now King Abdulaziz University Hospital, is established as a private hospital in Riyadh. In 1960 its administration transferred to the Ministry of Health, and in 1973 it transferred again, to King Saud University, becoming the educational hospital for King Saud University’s college of medicine in 1975. [ref]

Al Shumaisi Hospital inaugurated

King Abdulaziz inaugurates Al Shumaisi Hospital, a 500-bed facility with an emergency department, laboratory, pharmacy and units speciliasing in orthopedics, obstetrics, gynaecology paediatrics, radiology and immunisation. The facility, now known as King Saud Medical City, has expanded to include 1,500 beds, the kingdom’s first modern intensive care unit and its first digital operating theatre. [ref]

King Saud Medical City. [ref]

Medical training commences

Training for male nurses commences, provided by Aramco, at the School of Nursing. [ref],[ref]

Students at the School of Nursing. [ref]

Malaria campaign

Public health campaigns continue to raise awareness and combat the spread of communicable diseases, such as malaria, as the Kingdom aims to protect its citizens, residents and hajj pilgrims from health crises.

1962 Saudi postage stamps commemorating global efforts to combat malaria, in collaboration with the World Health Organisation. [ref]

Red Crescent establishes Saudi chapter

The Red Crescent Society, later renamed as Red Crescent Authority, establishes a charter of operations in Saudi Arabia. [ref]

Red Crescent staff gather around ambulances. [ref]

King Saud University College of Medicine established

Saudi Arabia’s first medical school, King Saud University College of Medicine, is established. Studies commence in 1969. [ref]

King Saud University College of Medicine. [ref]

King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Centre founded

King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Centre is founded, and in 1975 it is opened by King Khalid. The centre includes state-of-the-art departments of oncology, cardiac surgery, organ transplantation, genetic diseases and other specialties, and is ranked 20th globally and 1st in the region among academic medical centres. The hospital now comprises more than 1,800 hospital beds, 16,000 staff and 28 health outreach centres. [ref],[ref],[ref],[ref]

Construction of the King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Centre. [ref]

Development plan healthcare focus

Saudi Arabia issues its first five-year development plan. The plan includes various improvements to the national healthcare system and implements a compulsory vaccination scheme for infants and children. [ref]

An excerpt of Saudi Arabia’s 1970 development plan. [ref]

Ministry of Health awareness campaigns

Throughout the 1980s, the Ministry of Health conducts programmes and supports awareness activities to improve public health and prevent communicable and non-communicable diseases. In 1984 alone, the ministry supervises 121 meetings, symposia and mass media campaigns. [ref]

Saudi Arabian anti-smoking campaign stamp, issued in 1980. [ref]

Expansion of healthcare facilities

Between 1985-1987, under the kingdom’s third development plan, 377 healthcare facilities are built, including 65 hospitals and 312 primary healthcare centres. [ref]

Patient undergoes medical imaging in Saudi Arabia. [ref]

Local medical journals begin publication

The Saudi Heart Association Bulletin, a quarterly publication printed by King Saud University, is established.  

In 1997, the Health Education Journal, a monthly journal published by a security forces hospital, and the Nutrition Bulletin, a monthly leaflet issued by the MOH, are established. By the late 1990s more than 16 Saudi Arabian health and medical journals are in circulation. [ref]

Saudi Commission for Health Specialities established

The Saudi Commission for Health Specialties is established for the supervision, regulation and accreditation of all health-related training programmes in Saudi Arabia and to issue and renew licences for healthcare professionals. [ref]

Saudi Commission for Health Specialties. [ref]

Abdul Latif Jameel Rehabilitation Centre opens

In 1990, the late Abdul Latif Jameel begins working towards the establishment of a wellbeing facility for the elderly. Following his passing in 1994, the Jameel family expands upon his vision of an elderly home and establishes the Abdul Latif Jameel Rehabilitation Centre, which opens in 1997. The centre expands to include multiple clinics and provide inpatient services, and in 2009 the facility expands once again to become a fully-fledged hospital. [ref]

Abdul Latif Jameel Hospital for Medical Rehabilitation. [ref]

First Health Education Symposium held

The Health Education Symposium, organised by the King Khaled Eye Specialist Hospital in Riyadh, is the first national gathering of health educators in Saudi Arabia. The symposium is attended by health educators from different sectors for the purpose of advancing Saudi health education and to facilitate the development of the National Commission of Health Education by the Ministry of Health and the Charitable Society of Health Communication. Nine symposia are held between 2001-2011. [ref]

Radiological Society founded

The Radiological Society of Saudi Arabia (RSSA) is established. [ref]

Saudi physicians read chest x-rays. [ref]

National strategy for healthcare services developed

The Ministry of Health sets a national strategy for healthcare services, approved by the Council of Ministers, to cover a 20-year duration and support Saudi Vision 2030. The transformation programme aims to enhance and integrate Saudi’s healthcare system through partnerships and investments in AI and remote technologies. [ref],[ref]

A Saudi technician prepares a patient to undergo an MRI procedure. [ref]

Preventative health awareness campaigns

The Ministry of Health circulates more than 4 million health booklets, leaflets, posters and announcements and participates in 9,000 national and international health awareness activities to combat smoking, cancer and diabetes. Amongst its public recommendations, the ministry adopts the healthy food palm nutrition guideline. [ref],[ref]

The healthy food palm nutrition chart. [ref]

The Saudi Arabia National Cancer Institute (SANCI) founded

The Saudi Arabia National Cancer Institute is established by royal decree under the authority of the Saudi Health Council with the aim of becoming the leading national reference for cancer care. [ref],[ref]

Royal decree for health services issued

A royal decree requires “the provision of comprehensive health services to all inhabitants in Saudi Arabia in an equitable, affordable and organised manner.” [ref]

Text of the royal decree for health services. [ref]

SEHA Virtual Hospital inaugurated

SEHA Virtual Hospital opens as the world's largest virtual hospital, connecting more than 130 hospitals to provide health services across 12 specialties and 35 subspecialties to serve 500,000 beneficiaries annually via telemedicine. The hospital leverages artificial intelligence, augmented reality and the internet of things to expand and enhance healthcare throughout Saudi Arabia in line with Vision 2030. [ref], [ref], [ref]

Staff working at SEHA Virtual Hospital. [ref]

MIT Jameel Clinic launches partnership with KFSHRC

The MIT Abdul Latif Jameel Clinic deploys Mirai, a non-invasive Machine Learning tool for early prediction of breast cancer, for clinical trials at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre (KFSHRC). The first of its kind in Saudi Arabia, the programme brings KFSHRC into the MIT Jameel Clinic AI Hospital Network and revolutionises the landscape of cancer prediction in the kingdom. [ref]

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