CLEAN BILL

UAE, Abu Dhabi 2015 | HEALTH | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Prof. Maha Taysir Barakat, Director General of Health Authority—Abu Dhabi (HAAD), on how it will implement the five-year strategic plan and its key priorities.

HE Prof. Maha Taysir Barakat
BIOGRAPHY
HE Prof. Maha Taysir Barakat is the Director General of the HAAD. Previously, she was Medical & Research Director and Consultant Endocrinologist at the Imperial College London Diabetes Centre (ICLDC) in Abu Dhabi, and Reader at Imperial College London. In 2013, she became a visiting Professor at Imperial College London. She is on the Board of Trustees of the Family Development Foundation, and a Member of the Board of Directors of Shelters for Women and Children (Ewaa). For her work in the community in the UAE, she was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2010, and was awarded the Abu Dhabi Prize in 2011, and given the Imperial College Medal in 2013.

As Abu Dhabi's healthcare sector embarks on a new phase of reform through HAAD's five-year strategic plan, how do you characterize the importance of the Health Authority's role within the sector?

The HAAD is the regulatory body of the healthcare sector for the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and ensures excellence in healthcare for the community by monitoring the health status of the population. HAAD defines the strategy for the health system, the health status of the population, and the performance of the system. In addition, HAAD shapes the regulatory framework for the health system, inspects against regulations, enforces standards, and encourages adoption of best practice and performance targets by all healthcare service providers in the Emirate. HAAD also drives programs to increase awareness and adoption of healthy living standards among the residents of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi in addition to regulating scope of services, premiums and reimbursement rates of the health system in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.

How do you face maintaining international best practices and evidence-based clinical best practices with an expenditure that keeps going up each year?

This is a challenge being faced in almost every country around the world, not just in Abu Dhabi or the region. The goal is to monitor and improve access, quality, and control cost of care. Our five-year strategy is a very robust document that has had stakeholder involvement and consensus throughout.

What are the key objectives laid out in HAAD's five-year strategy?

Improving the availability and access to a full spectrum of health care services across the entire Emirate is a key priority. We have developed both the Health Statistics reports and the Capacity Master Plan, which use data to identify capacity gaps, enabling us to determine how best to fill them—be it through private or public sector investment—with avoidance of duplicated efforts. Ultimately, this will minimize the need for patients to seek medical treatment abroad, which has a significant financial impact, as well as improve access to care in rural areas. Currently, under-serviced areas include intensive and critical care medicine, emergency care, neonatology, pediatrics, oncology, orthopedics, rehabilitation and psychiatry. Sub-specialty gaps also exist in pediatrics and pediatric surgery, as well as adult sub-specialties such as neurosurgery, plastics, and surgical oncology. It is imperative that we are transparent about what services are lacking in order to encourage investors to participate in those areas. Another important element in elevating the quality of care is the implementation of initiatives to attract, train, and retain healthcare professionals, with a specific focus on increasing the number of Emiratis in the sector. Currently, there is high medical staff turnover and few Emirati physicians and nurses. This must be addressed if we are to create a sustainable industry. We are working with institutions like SEHA, Tawteen Council, and the Higher Colleges of Technology to develop programs with this aim. UAE University already has a medical school in Al Ain and Khalifa University is planning to establish one as well. Sheikha Fatima College of Health Sciences has also expanded to provide degree programs in fields including nursing and paramedics. The next priority of our strategy is emergency preparedness. We were under heavy pressure during the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-COV) in 2012, but our systems were able to cope with it very well and contain the infection. We optimized the way that the hospitals dealt with patients who had the virus. Thankfully, we have had zero cases of Ebola, but several suspected cases were managed according to international best practice. The final priority is public health, where we go by the adage that prevention is better than cure. A healthy diet and lifestyle is important, and that applies to non-communicable disease. Tackling smoking is an important part of this. Abu Dhabi has successfully hosted the World Congress for Tobacco or Health in March 2015. For communicable disease, vaccines are essential. The Emirate is now going through a revaccination of Polio and Measles through a nationwide campaign to make sure we have 100% participation. In a very short period of time, Abu Dhabi has evolved to the point of 100% compliance with an e-claims system, ensuring that all patient interactions with health care providers are recorded electronically. We are still optimizing and fine-tuning the system, with the most recent changes encompassing the introduction of diagnosis-related groups (DRGs). However, the continued enhancement of our health care informatics and e-health platform will enable further exchange of data among providers, which will then give us the ability to achieve our goals on our specified priority areas of focus.