Over the last decade, the healthcare industry has emerged as one of the most important sectors contributing to the overall economic diversification. At the same time, it is the need of the hour to look for alternatives as oil prices have started dipping and non-oil trades and business have proved to be that alternative for UAE. The promotion of public private partnerships in the field of healthcare along with mandatory insurance coverage has successfully encouraged private players to setup facilities and invest in UAE’s infrastructure. With people becoming more health conscious and seeking preventive care rather than curative care, the sector has become a promising one.
UAE as a Hub of Medical Tourism
In recent times, Medical tourism has seen global growth with estimated annual revenues between $50-65 billion with an annual growth of approximately 15-20 percent. Countries have invested millions to supply services for the increase in demand of quality services across borders. The UAE initiated a major drive to attract medical tourists with a partnership between the Department of Health and the Department of Culture and Tourism. A worldwide marketing campaign is on the way with an aim to establish the Emirates as the hub of medical tourism.
The key focus of the campaign is to highlight generally complex yet areas of medical excellence like open heart surgery and cancer treatment, which are not easily available in the region. UAE also plans to add packages that offer discounts on attractions for family members accompanying the patients. Significantly, Dubai has made an advance in the field. The medical tourism industry has generated more than AED 1.4 billion for Dubai in 2016. A total of 326,649 medical tourists visited Dubai. The data shows an increase of 9.5 percent over the previous year with popular areas of treatment for medical tourists being orthopedics dermatology and ophthalmology.
A further study of the figures shows 37 percent of the medical tourists came to Asian countries, while tourists from Arab and GCC countries accounted for 31 percent and visitors from Europe accounted for 15 percent. Due to the rising healthcare costs in the west and lack of insurance coverage for certain procedures people are traveling to other countries to seek medical, dental, and surgical care. The healthcare infrastructure in developed countries is not growing at the same rate as the aging population is growing and it is increasing the demand for medical tourism. This resulting stress on the Social Health Delivery Systems in western and advanced countries has proved advantageous for new medical tourism hubs like the UAE.
The time is perfect for the UAE to take the lead. All it requires is to beefup its existing healthcare infrastructure. The biggest advantage UAE has is a strong health regulation framework, which has helped to ensure quality healthcare in the past and with proof to be a catalyst for medical tourism. In recent times, we have observed investment coming from both the government as well as the private sector in the medical sector that is supporting economic growth. In fact, medical tourism is expected to contribute $708 million to the GDP of the UAE by 2020, with 13 percent predicted year-on-year revenue growth, according to the Dubai Health Authority (DHA). Pharmaceuticals and medical equipment are two of the priority sub-sectors listed under the 2030 Dubai Industrial Strategy that aims to promote the emirate as a global platform for sustainable and innovation focused businesses.
The UAE Ministry of Health has plans to have 34 indigenous pharmaceutical manufacturing factories by 2020. The expected market value of the UAE’s pharmaceutical industry is to reach a value of AED25 billion by 2025. With advances in unique and innovative marketing strategies UAE is adding new dimensions in the medical tourism industry. In April 2016, the Health Tourism Council launched the world’s first medical tourism portal, Dubai Health Experience(www.dxh.ae), offering access to a comprehensive list of health and related services with exciting and attractive wellness, cosmetic and dental packages along with ophthalmology, orthopedics, physiotherapy, and other specialized medical services. Not only the websites, but the flexible compatibility of the websites along with their android apps has also taken the offers to people sitting miles away.
What is to be done?
The levels of awareness about the benefits of global health insurance in several emerging markets are low and that has to be enhanced significantly for the medical tourism segment. The need of the time is to focus on efforts to realign the perception of affordability over need-based health services. Throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia, the volume of international patients has grown in the past 15 years. Spending on healthcare services is on the rise across the globe and governments are required to invest in healthcare to bring patients to their respective countries. In the UAE, the government has taken significant steps by encouraging private players to enter the healthcare sector. These investments are necessary and have made the country more attractive for medical tourists.
The Advantages UAE has
One of the most crucial advantages that make the UAE most advantageous is its geoposition. The Middle East is an ideal medical tourism hub for its strategic location. The UAE is only an eight-hour flight away from two thirds of the world’s population. That is the main reason why UAE and particularly Dubai is attracting medical tourists and thus, on the line of becoming a global medical tourism destination. The need to build world-class healthcare is one of the pillars of the National Agenda of the United Arab Emirates and the UAE government is putting massive efforts to ensure effective and timeless collaboration to build an effective healthcare system.
Role of Health Insurance
The healthcare ecosystem is made up of various stakeholders, from providers to regulators and insurance service providers. The development of a successful medical tourism hub is extremely dependent on such elements at every level and combining their strengths, UAE will be in a position to offer a seamless and integrated healthcare experience. Access to global coverage and local expertise serves to support medical tourism in regional markets. Dubai aims to attract 500,000 medical tourists by 2020 supported by Expo 2020 and the continued development of the healthcare sector.