TBY talks to Dr. Ayesha Abdullah, Managing Director of Dubai Sciences Cluster, on the healthcare free zone and the private sector.

Dr. Ayesha Abdullah
An industry professional with over 19 years of experience in the healthcare and engineering sectors, Dr. Ayesha Abdullah’s core competencies include strategic healthcare planning, project management, and strong technical competency. In her capacity with DHCC and DuBiotech, she is responsible for overseeing the life science and healthcare free zones’ strategic planning and operations, driving the development of new businesses, and managing strategic partners.

Why did you decide to establish a free zone dedicated to health care, and how has Dubai Healthcare City Cluster developed since it first opened in 2005?

Dubai Healthcare City Cluster (DHCC) falls into Dubai's overall plan. It's very much a part of the strategic plan of making Dubai an international city, and the key to that is education and health care. DHCC was the brainchild of HH Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and DHCC was launched in 2002. We spent a few years building the infrastructure, and we became operational in 2005. The first clinic opened in mid-2005, and since then we've grown into a community of over 90 medical centers, two Joint Commission International (JCI) accredited hospitals, and we have several other hospitals under construction. The goal is mainly to make sure that people in the region and those that go abroad for medical treatment choose to get treatment in the UAE. The concept is a public-private partnership (PPP) model in which the government has generously invested in the infrastructure, and we have invited the private sector to come in and set up shop in the cluster. We've been very successful in that we've attracted a lot of top-notch healthcare providers globally: Samsung Medical Center from Korea, Moorfields Eye Hospital from the UK, and Dr Sulaiman Al Habib Medical Group from the region to name just a few. In the past six years, we have seen the number of patients coming to DHCC increase, and I think we're doing a good job of keeping people at home. About 15% of the patients we currently see come from outside the region. Predominantly they come from the GCC region, but we also see patients from other Arab countries. The goal in the long run is to be in a position to keep all of our patients at home as well as attract patients regionally that usually go abroad. Key to that is finding out what those patients are going abroad for and then providing those treatments here, so from the very beginning we have understood that health care is an industry that is based on trust and quality is of paramount importance. For that reason, we set up the Center for Healthcare Planning & Quality (CPQ), which is the regulatory arm of DHCC. We have very stringent requirements for the licensing of professionals. We look into the design of our buildings because we believe a healing environment goes hand-in-hand with treatment.

Dubai has experienced tremendous economic growth in a wide range of industries over the past two decades. How has the private healthcare industry evolved?

Historically, health care was always an area that was dominated by the government across the Middle East. Over the past five to seven years, we've seen a shift in that emphasis, and we are seeing more and more healthcare providers coming in as they see the region as a growth area because the population is increasing, the population is aging, and aging is linked with more healthcare needs. The projections for growth in the coming year in the Middle East look really strong, and so the private sector has been growing, and we are seeing this trend across the board both in this country and in the GCC region.

You also have an active role in the management of DuBiotech. How do DuBiotech and DHCC work together, and what is your joint vision and strategy for the coming years?

DHCC and DuBiotech operate within the whole spectrum of life sciences; everything from R&D to actually creating the drugs and then providing patient care. Within that spectrum there are a lot of synergies as well as overlaps between the two clusters. Many clinical providers and some pharmaceutical companies operate in DHCC, while in DuBiotech there are a whole range of operations, including fragrance development. We have specifically designed the DuBiotech headquarters as a laboratory.