Bringing more healthcare to the UAE

23 November 2010

Healthcare remains a basic requirement in the UAE, regardless of the vicissitudes of the economy. With rising populations and strong government backing, the scope for British service providers is huge

Opportunities for healthcare investment in the UAE

  • Specialist oncology hospitals
  • Long-term medical care providers
  • Residential care for the elderly and people with special needs
  • Fertility clinics
  • Diabetes clinics
  • Paediatric clinics in new residential areas
  • Rehabilitation centres for in- and outpatients
  • Primary healthcare clinics for people on low incomes
  • Outpatient care programmes

Source: Dubai Health Authority

In the past, the UAE sent its citizens abroad for medical treatment. Now it is expanding home-grown healthcare, where it has committed to heavy investment as one of its top priorities. UK Trade & Investment expects the sector to be worth nearly $12bn by 2015.

We have been asked by UAE bodies to find a UK medical school that might be interested in entering the market

Sunita Mirchandani, British Embassy

“It is a top priority to create an integrated centre for healthcare excellence, regulated to internationally recognised standards, working with leading experts and brands and developing local talent,” says Ayesha Abdullah, executive director of Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC). “Unlike other sectors, healthcare provision remains a fundamental requirement, regardless of economic challenges.”

A recent McKinsey report forecast that demand in Dubai for hospital beds will double by 2025 to 165,000 beds and demand for treatment will increase by 240 per cent. If this is accurate, Dubai’s healthcare costs look set to increase to around $60bn a year by 2025.

UAE private sector hospitals

The state will not fund all the country’s healthcare needs. By 2015, the federal government wants the private sector to manage 70 per cent of the UAE’s hospitals.

Under Dubai’s 2015 Strategic Plan, Dubai Healthcare Authority will spend nearly AED3.7bn ($1bn) on healthcare projects. Free zone DHCC aims to spearhead that drive. Home to more than 90 healthcare companies, it offers tax breaks, 100 per cent foreign ownership and financial incentives to private healthcare investors. It aims to have added 10 new clinics by the end of 2010.

Key UAE health indicators
Neo-natal mortality5.54 per thousand births
Infant mortality7.7 per thousand
Average life expectancy78.3 years
Population aged over 651.3 per cent
Number of hospital beds19 per 10,000 population
Diabetes patients (2000)350,000
Diabetes patients (est 2030)700,000
Adult obesity rates68.5 per cent
Sources: WHO; MEED

The UAE also needs to recruit and train nationals to enter the healthcare professions, whether as doctors, nurses or administrators. Creating a home-grown medical workforce will cut the cost of importing foreign expertise.

“We have been asked several times by UAE bodies to find a UK medical school that might be interested in entering the market,” says Sunita Mirchandani, trade and investment adviser for education and skills at the British Embassy in Dubai.

Abu Dhabi has focused on expanding its network of clinics to communities outside the main urban centres. Abu Dhabi Health Services (Seha) manages 12 hospitals with more than 2,600 beds and a network of more than 40 clinics. Seha has entered into strategic partners with several international partners to attract private expertise from overseas. Abu Dhabi plans to finance healthcare expansion through compulsory health insurance, opening opportunities for UK companies specialising in medical cover.

“Once private health insurance takes hold, it is expected that patient volumes for private providers will rapidly increase as patients pursue reimbursed care at private institutions,” a report by Dubai Health Authority concludes.

Dubai has regional ambitions to position itself as a hub for healthcare. Ithmar Capital’s GCC Healthcare Challenge 2050 report suggests that the GCC countries will need 138,965 hospital beds, 140,334 physicians and 227,079 nurses if they are to maintain current levels of care to 2050. This represents more than 25,000 additional hospital beds.

High birth rates mean that the GCC states have among the highest rates of population growth worldwide, with average annual growth of 3 per cent. This will see the region’s population nearly double in size by 2025, placing new demands on healthcare infrastructure.

Diseases of affluence in the UAE

More spend on research and development will become critical as the UAE struggles to tackle a rise in diseases of affluence among Emirati nationals. Sedentary lifestyles, fast-food diets and smoking are creating new health problems for the UAE. Illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer are becoming more prevalent. With 20 per cent of the population diabetic, the UAE has the second highest incidences of the disease anywhere in the world. Cardiovascular diseases are already the leading cause of death in the UAE, accounting for 41 per cent of mortalities.

UK healthcare bodies are already prominent in the market but there is opportunity for more. “There is plenty of scope in the UAE for British firms to offer niche services,” says Frances Moffett-Kouadio, director of trade and investment at the British Embassy in Abu Dhabi. “Now is the ideal time for UK providers to make a commitment to the UAE market.”

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