In the UAE, there is a comprehensive, government-funded health service, in addition to a burgeoning private health sector. Healthcare in the UAE is regulated at the federal and emirate levels, with federal-level legislation dating back to the 1970s and 80s. Public healthcare services are administered by a number of regulatory authorities, including: The Ministry of Health and Prevention, Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HAAD), the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) and the Emirates Health Authority (EHA). HAAD was created to regulate all healthcare sectors – public/private, provider/payer/professionals – while SEHA (which is Arabic for ‘health’) is the largest public provider. In 2015, a new health insurance programme was launched in Dubai by the UAE Government to support nationals not covered under any other government-funded health insurance scheme.
Increased government spending during strong economic years is believed to have helped create the generally high standards of healthcare found in the UAE. According to the World Bank, life expectancy in the UAE was 77.54 in 2015. In addition, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), fewer women are dying during or after pregnancy. In fact, rates of maternal deaths were reduced to six cases in 100,000 live births in 2016, down from eight in 2013.
“Antenatal care and care after pregnancy are all helping to reduce maternal deaths. The improvement in technology has also been a factor,” said Dr Hiam Ahmed Harfoush, specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology at Burjeel Hospital.
the UAE’s health sector will grow by 60 per cent between 2016 and 2021 and be worth more than AED (UAE Dirham) 103 billion by 2021
The UAE Vision 2021 National Agenda aims to build a world-class healthcare system in the country. The Agenda was launched by H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, at the closing of a Cabinet meeting in 2010. It aims to place the UAE among the best countries in the world by the Golden Jubilee of the Union and is divided into six different pillars: world-class healthcare, competitive knowledge economy, safe public and fair judiciary, and a first-rate education system. Due to the creation of a world-class healthcare infrastructure being a top priority for the government of the UAE, the sector has advanced and expanded in the past few years.
Growth through technology
According to recent reports, it is estimated that the UAE’s health sector will grow by 60 per cent between 2016 and 2021 and be worth more than AED (UAE Dirham) 103 billion by 2021. The driving factor of this growth is predicted to be technology. Indeed, the country came out on top of Philips’ Future Health Index report published last year, which measures countries’ perception of accessibility and integration of healthcare systems and the adoption of connected healthcare. This is due to positive views on the current state of integration throughout the health system and patient and healthcare professional readiness to adopt technology.
According to the report, examples of technology innovations that have been implemented at the national and local level include: an electronic health system; a preventative health public service called the Weqaya Programme in Abu Dhabi; 24/7 telemedicine; and a number of smartphone apps to encourage people to forge connections with healthcare. Another recent report said that the UAE earned the highest regional score on the Middle East Healthcare Access Index compiled by BMI Research, highlighting the importance of technology in healthcare. “Advanced healthcare systems and compulsory health insurance in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and the continuous adoption of new technologies in the healthcare system, will support the UAE’s position,” it said. “Innovation in clinical services and the use of new technologies in disease diagnosis and treatment will drive a more patient-centric healthcare system.”
An attractive destination
The UAE Government is keen to increase the number of medical travellers coming to the UAE by establishing Dubai as a centre of healthcare excellence in the region. A number of hospitals in the UAE are offering innovative therapies, which makes it an attractive destination for high-quality treatment. One example of this is when, earlier this year, Emirates Hospital Jumeirah, an Emirates Healthcare company, announced that it was partnering with ReGen Medical Management Dubai to launch a new stem cell and regenerative medical centre. Another example is the introduction of a new knee joint replacement technology, ‘Arabic Knee’.
rates of maternal deaths were reduced to six cases in 100,000 live births in 2016, down from eight in 2013
Challenges and the future
When it comes to healthcare challenges, the UAE is dealing with healthcare burdens similar to other parts of the world, such as rising incidence of heart disease and cancer. More unusual challenges include a high incidence of congenital diseases due to the large number of consanguineous marriages, and a rapid increase in the prevalence of obesity and metabolic syndrome due to a rapidly changing lifestyle to one that is more affluent and sedentary.
According to the Embassy of the UAE in Washington, US, healthcare delivery in Abu Dhabi is undergoing a significant transition, for which the key goals are: improving quality of care, expanding access to services, shifting from public to private providers and implementing a new financing model. In order to further develop its healthcare system, the UAE is working with leading global institutions, including US-based institutions such as The Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, The Johns Hopkins Medical School, The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and The Children’s National Medical Center. ■