THE RIGHT DIAGNOSIS
Now home to 20 hospitals and a population set to reach 2.7 million by 2025, Sharjah is experiencing a healthcare growth spurt that presents tangible investment potential.
Worth AED3.6 billion in 2015 and a projected AED3.9 billion in 2016, Sharjah's healthcare sector is posting consistent, organic growth. With a shifting demographic and increasing quality of life, local residents and foreign visitors alike expect the highest standards of care. Meanwhile, Sharjah's higher rate of healthcare incidents compared to the rest of the UAE, at 1 in 1,000, has led to a number of opportunities for investors to bridge the gap between supply and demand.
Due to the fact that major strides are being taken to improve healthcare services from both public and private entities, Sharjah's hospitals have seen immense growth. Today, there are six major brands in Sharjah - University Hospital Sharjah (UHS), Al Zahra, The Healing Touch, Zulekha Hospital, Central Private Hospital, and Royal Hospital. For the years 2012-2018, Sharjah's investment authority, Shurooq, valued the services they are providing at AED2.7 billion, and the market size growth rate at 9.3%. There are currently over 900 beds in both public and private hospitals in Sharjah.
With government support behind them, many of Sharjah's hospitals have confidently invested in the sector by acquiring high-quality equipment, designing and executing expansions, and adding more beds. Mandates from the UAE Ministry of Health also include training of staff on a regular basis.
As a number of new medical centers and clinics open up in Sharjah, many foresee a transition from smaller-capacity facilities to larger, specialized hospitals. “Today, many medical centers are opening, but in the near future there will be more hospitals, and from there, specialty hospitals focusing on oncology, cardiology, and gynecology," Taher Shams, Managing Director of Zulekha Hospitals, told TBY. Zulekha Hospital completed the expansion of its hospital in Sharjah in 2016, adding four more floors to the facility and 50 additional beds. Meanwhile, UHS expressed intentions to expand, placing a focus on women and children's services, cardiovascular disease, and cancer treatment.
One lifestyle disease that has been pervasive in the region is diabetes. Official figures estimate that there are nearly 2 million people in the UAE living with diabetes, and although treatment is widely available, preventative measures are now being taken to support the healthcare sector. Corniche Hospital in Sharjah has launched several initiatives to educate the public on diabetes, especially children, who may not know about the disease even if they exhibit symptoms. “We organize camps to increase awareness about the issue," Dr. Mahesh Vidhani, CEO of Corniche Hospital, told TBY, adding, “The camps we organize make checks on sugar levels… it is a very important health issue that needs to be addressed." Vidhani also stressed that there is room for more diabetic centers to be opened to help meet demand for education and prevention.
MORE BEDS, MORE SERVICES
Although the Sharjah Health Authority estimates that up to 633 more beds are needed to keep up with the growing population of the Emirate in the medium term, UHS CEO Michael Stroud has identified another trend to focus on. “More than extra beds, we need to change the system by focusing more on developing a robust primary healthcare service supported by long-term care facilities," he explained in an interview with TBY. With few centers geared toward caring for the elderly, accident victims, and patients with neurological disorders or birth defects, there are opportunities in Sharjah for dynamic healthcare providers who can cater to different population segments and needs.
Medcare answered the call in April 2016 when it decided to open its first clinic in Sharjah, a milestone for the company as it expands further into the UAE. The 4,000-sqm, multi-specialty clinic will boast a talented, multinational staff who can provide a one-stop-shop medical experience, offering comprehensive care in pediatrics, gynecology, dermatology, ophthalmology, diet and nutrition, pulmonology, dentistry, endoscopy, physiotherapy, and more, all under one roof. The clinic also features its own x-ray, laboratory, and pharmacy, and adds 150 more beds to Sharjah's hospital capacity.
Along with a distinct rise in healthcare spending across the Emirate, pharmaceutical sales are also growing. The market was projected to grow to over AED700 million during the period between 2012 and 2016.
Major companies operating in the pharmaceuticals segment are Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline, BinSina Pharmacy, Abbott, and Medpharma. But, as the government clamors for less reliance on imported drugs, more pharmaceutical companies are bound to vie for a piece of the market share. Shurooq encourages private entities to feel welcome to establish facilities locally to help cope with demand, while joint ventures and licensing deals are also on the table.
As for a local success story, Emirati company Medpharma was established in 1998, choosing the cost-effective Sharjah as a base for manufacturing. The company produces generic drugs, cosmetics, and beauty-care products at its Sharjah factories, with a per annum capacity of 15 million cream tubes, 185 million capsules, and 850 million tablets, many of which are exported to the wider GCC and Africa.
Formed in 2012 by HH Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, UAE Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, Sharjah Healthcare City (SHCC) will be the premier destination for medical and pharmaceutical companies setting up in the Emirate. The freezone is planned to spread out over 2.5million sqm, with a primary phase of 500,000 sqm and a prime location next to Sharjah International Airport. Occupants can benefit from 100% ownership guaranteed and no taxation, as well as single-window setup service, hassle free licensing, and world-class infrastructure, all provided by the Sharjah Health Authority (SHA). In an interview with TBY, HE Abdulla Ali Al Mahyan, Chairman of SHA, said “We are focused on developing the primary phase…. clinical-office buildings, small and medium hospitals, and rehab centers. Our future strategy is to engage in health tourism." Eventually, the SHA plans to attract everything from laboratories and biotechnology research centers to yoga and wellness centers and medical-related equipment storage. To achieve these goals, the SHA is exploring investment opportunities with partners from as far afield as Korea and the US, having signed an agreement with the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare on cooperation in 13 health care areas, and having hosted a delegation of nine US dignitaries in the medical sector in 2015.