COMMITTED TO HEALTH

Abu Dhabi 2017 | HEALTH | REVIEW

As Abu Dhabi continues to expand the quality of its healthcare facilities and services, its outcomes have improved and it has cemented its status as a leading destination for medical tourism in the MENA region.

As stakeholders work to ensure that the Emirate produces world-class services and health outcomes, healthcare in Abu Dhabi continues to develop at an impressive rate. Officials in the public and private sector have renewed their commitment to developing every aspect of the Emirate's health sector. According to the World Health Organization, per-capita health expenditure is over USD2,400, putting the UAE amongst the top-20 countries in the world in terms of healthcare expenditure. Life expectancy is 76 for males and 79 for females, and spending on health sits at around 3.6% of GDP.

Increases in wealth and the proliferation of sedentary lifestyles have led to the exacerbation of certain chronic illnesses. Rates of obesity, type-II diabetes, and cardio-vascular disease have all risen in recent years, and health officials have articulated growing concern about the long-term health implications of unhealthy lifestyles. According to the WHO, heart disease is the number-one cause of death in the Emirates, while stroke and diabetes are other leading culprits. In a recent interview with TBY, Sarah Stall, Chief Administrative Officer of Healthpoint, described the issue in stark terms, noting there is a “growing obesity epidemic and an exponential increase in type-II diabetes." The issue has not, however, gone without response, and public and private organizations have been taking major steps in an effort to address the issues. Stall observed that Healthpoint had recently partnered with Imperial College London Diabetes Centre (ICLDC) and Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi to expand services and raise awareness. “Healthpoint also leads many other events in the community, creating awareness and educating the public on health issues that are relevant and have an impact on the people of the UAE," said Stall.

A growing population and industry expansion ensure that Abu Dhabi's health needs will necessitate the training of large number of new doctors and nurses in the coming years. According to projections from the Health Authority of Abu Dhabi (HAAD), Abu Dhabi will need 4,800 new doctors and 13,000 new nurses by the end of 2022. Additionally, the WHO reports that the Emirates are lagging behind other Gulf states in terms of nurses and midwifes, totaling only 31 per 100,000 people compared to 45 in Kuwait, 48 in Saudi Arabia, and 53 in Oman. The vast majority of nursing professionals are foreigners, and according to the US-UAE Business Council, only 1.6% of the nurses at the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (SEHA), a leading medical care provider that owns and operates all public medical facilities in Abu Dhabi, are Emirati. This shortage is expected to provide serious opportunities for both new generations of Emiratis interested in healthcare as well as educational institutions focused on vocational training in the medical field. Shortages have also been identified in psychiatry, intensive and critical care medicine, emergency care, neonatology, pediatrics, oncology, and orthopedics.

HAAD is the governmental body that oversees the Emirate's health services, and the authority has been working to improve outcomes in a number of key areas. Since 2014, Abu Dhabi has been following a strategy outlined by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince, that seeks to improve health outcomes across a number of areas. The plan includes 85 distinct initiatives to, among other things, increase the overall quality of the system, improve safety and patient satisfaction, recruit high-quality medical personnel, and develop and world-class data systems into the healthcare industry. A core piece of this project has included developing and expanding SEHA, and the company now operates 12 hospitals, 46 primary healthcare clinics, 10 disease prevention and screening centers, three mobile clinics, four dental care centers, and a handful of other important medical facilities, according to the US-UAE Business Council. SEHA has been working to expand its medical facilities across the country, and notable projects have included a sizable enlargement of the Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, which included the addition of a psychiatry center and pediatric and adult dialysis centers, and the construction of the Al Towayya Children's Specialty Center in Al Ain. Another key component in SEHA's mission has been the development of its Ambulatory Health Services (AHS) facilities, which now include 38 centers across the Emirate. In an exclusive interview with TBY, Dr. Mariam Buti Al Mazrouei, CEO of AHS, described the service's mission and its successes. “AHS has maintained its goal of being the gateway for healthcare services in Abu Dhabi," said Al Mazrouei. “Since our inception, our target has been to enhance access to care and offer quality curative and preventative care for patients, as well as sub-specialty services in our healthcare centers." This emphasis has brought a new level of care to the farther flung corners of the Emirate, and their work continues to improve the health of Emiratis.