An Apple A Day
Which segments of your portfolio are you most focusing on in 2014?
We are now a 100% limited liability company, while maintaining the same ownerships, partnerships, and percentages as before. We have evolved a lot since the 1970s and 1980s, and we have become more professional and more future driven, introducing innovative healthcare endeavors to the GCC market. It's really a proud moment for all of us when we see our annual turnover to be nine digits; and there is no doubt it is all because of the hard work and determination of our 700 plus staff to make life better for all. We have grown a lot since my father, Dr. Hassan Al Moosa, started this organization 45 years ago; while we have come a long way, there is still a long journey for us to go. It would be not wise on my part to say that we would be concentrating only on one particular portfolio this year. We have many departments, and all serve society and create value for all of us. There are always two aspects to how a department performs: monetary value and non-monetary value; we have been successful in striking a balance between both. Today, GulfDrug has clients in both the private sector, represented by non-government organizations, including supermarkets, and the public sector, including municipalities, police departments, and hospitals. Our Medical Consumables and Devices Department has over 25 years of experience and it provides the best aftercare sales, training, and world-class products to clients. The Medical Equipment Department takes care of Imaging, X-ray, Ultrasound, Endoscopy and other medical capital equipment. This department provides extremely complicated and expensive apparatuses and solutions. Then, there is another vertical under GulfDrug since 2001, which looks after medical projects. GulfDrug has capabilities to handle a project from any stage, be it designing, supplying, and installing or commissioning a hospital or any other such turnkey projects. We focus on hospitals, clinics, day care surgery centers, and mobile hospitals. We are also into implementing health and safety systems along with equipment integration, duly abiding by all the necessary regulations. We have another venture very close to our hearts, for example veterinary healthcare sciences. It is managed by its own independent director; it's into supplying medicines, carrying out specialized surgery, and delivering consumables to places like camel farms and horse studs. So our efforts are going to be comprehensive this year as well, concentrating on all our endeavors and working together to make life better.
Are there other independent units?
Yes, we have our Medical Service Department as a separate unit under the organization. It was a conscious decision we made due to the constant growth of the portfolio, high install rate, and customer requirements. It has taken over the servicing of equipment by other suppliers as well. Most of our engineers are trained in the US, France, Germany, and the UK. There is a full service set-up within the country, while there are also some agents that do not have the capacity to provide this. For example, GulfDrug services all the endoscopy equipment within the Middle East, Africa, and parts of Asia, a service, which is a multi-million-dollar set-up. So it's a big market out there, and all this while we have been able to largely cover it.
What is your opinion on Dubai becoming a hub for medical tourism?
It is achievable, but it depends upon the medical fraternity of Dubai. Medical tourism will not come up till the time our medical services are affordable, accessible, and available to all. By availability and accessibility, I am trying to say that before anything, we need to focus on bringing qualified medical professionals to Dubai, but that is purely a decision of medical professionals, which might depend on their personal preferences or the kinds of opportunities Dubai will offer to them. For example, in Germany, a personal consultant in the medical field earns something around €3 million annually. These are the top consultants. The second-tier doctors normally serve in the public sector and earn quite a bit less. Thus no matter how noble this profession is, there are better financial opportunities outside Dubai, and people are seeking those options. You need to address the financial needs of a medical professional to a large extent. Thus, the level of commitment is more, and you can compare their services with any medical professional in the US or Europe. Currently, most medical institutions are catching up, both in the government and private sector. The UAE spends a lot of money for its citizens to seek medical treatment abroad for certain specialties, about $1 billion annually, and this money can be better spent locally to upgrade hospitals, bring in experienced doctors, and serve the local population and expatriates, especially when universal healthcare is coming to the country very soon. We are seeing the trend by the government to provide these facilities and services to all the people living in the UAE. I am hopeful that once universal health insurance is established, the government will be able to compete with the private sector and provide better services to locals and expatriates.
What is your opinion on changes to the new health insurance law?
It's like two sides of a coin; one is economic, while the other is humanitarian. Regarding the latter, the government has made good decisions and the system is on par with, or better than, most developed countries. This is important because the majority of workers in the UAE are not Emiratis. This new law is a great and a courageous step, which even many developed countries do not enforce. While looking at the economic aspect, it is a burden for many companies to purchase health insurance, because a lot of companies have many employees, and are working on very thin margins. Medical insurance takes away anywhere from 1%-5% of their gross profits. This eats away at their bottom lines heavily, thus we may see an increase in pricing in the unregulated services provided to the economy. But all in all, this translates into better health insurance and services in the country, but some more government regulation on the insurance companies will be required. For example, there will be the need for more regulation over the dues owed to medical providers. Today, there is no such law that requires payment to medical providers within a certain period of time or laws that regulate the percentage increase in insurance premiums annually.
How do you feel about the government's expressed interest in increasing awareness about preventive healthcare?
Preventive healthcare starts at the core of the family; it is a lifestyle issue. Preventive care is particularly important in the UAE because the UAE is mainly a young country. This young population, once it ages, will be a huge financial burden on the healthcare system both in the private and government sectors. The strategy of focusing on preventive medicine is a strong and wise strategy. With some PR, education, and the leadership of HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, we can create a healthier population, which means a more productive population. The cost of healthcare will dramatically reduce. Look at Sweden; in the 1960s, the government spent a large amount of money to educate its population on healthy living, including the encouragement of exercise, free time, stress management, and a healthy diet. Sweden has managed to create a population that ages slowly and is extremely healthy. The average life expectancy is above 85 years, and is dramatically increasing. The society is also one of the most productive in Europe, and it works fewer hours than others. However, the UAE is not Sweden yet, and the country needs to find its own way of life that suits the region.