TBY talks to Marwan Abedin, CEO of Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC), on developing a health hub, improving medical training, and the prospects for health tourism.

Marwan Abedin
Marwan Abedin is a graduate in Economics & Political Science from Wake Forest University in the US, and was the first UAE national to be accredited by the NASD as a General Securities Representative (Series 7). He worked as the Director of Debt Management at the Department of Finance from 2008 to 2011 before being appointed a Member of the Board of Directors of Dubai Healthcare City Authority. In March 2012, he was nominated as a Member of the Board of Directors of Emaar Properties before assuming his current position as CEO of Dubai Healthcare City in October 2012.

How has the government push for an enhanced, well-rounded healthcare sector impacted operations at Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC)?

Dubai Healthcare City, also known as DHCC, was launched in 2002 by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice-President, Prime Minister, and Ruler of Dubai, to become an internationally recognized location of choice for quality healthcare and an integrated center of excellence for clinical and wellness services, as well as medical education, and research. As the region's first healthcare free zone, DHCC has been at the heart of the nation's rapidly evolving healthcare system.

What emphasis are you placing on educating local medical professionals?

Medical education is at the core of healthcare excellence. We have invested heavily in education as part of our mission to establish DHCC as an internationally recognized leader in medical education. We need to ensure that our future medical professionals are trained and qualified to the highest international standards within state-of-the art facilities.

The Mohammed Bin Rashid Academic Medical Center (MBR-AMC), the academic and research arm of DHCC, is the foundation of Dubai's clinical, education, and research structure. Within the center, our portfolio of medical education facilities, resources, and platforms allows regional healthcare professionals to access high-quality medical, nursing, and allied health programs. By focusing on the development of a local pool of medical talent, and enhancing research within the UAE, we are building a solid base for advancements in medical education and research. We are also establishing a sustainable, home-grown workforce, which, in turn, provides the highest level of healthcare services, allowing UAE residents to be treated within the country, thus reversing the trend whereby Emiratis travel overseas and expatriates return home for medical treatment.

We have also established institutions of the highest standards through partnerships with key global healthcare players and renowned academic institutions. These partnerships have seen DHCC's portfolio of education projects develop into a medical hub of exceptional standing. Strategic global medical education partners include the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, Dubai School of Dental Medicine, European University College, and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. These partnerships also allow us to offer a range of post-graduate courses across many medical specialties, essential in supporting an advanced healthcare infrastructure and meeting the needs of an ever-expanding community.

We recently held the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland's annual conferring ceremony within the Al Seddiqi Auditorium. Located within MBR-AMC, the auditorium is one of our many modern facilities and hosts a number of small- to medium-scale scientific exhibitions and conferences. Under the patronage of the Chairperson of Dubai Healthcare City Authority, HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, wife of HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice-President and Prime Minister, and Ruler of Dubai, the ceremony saw Masters degrees conferred on 50 students who, thanks to their advanced training in healthcare management, are in an ideal position to contribute to shaping the region's healthcare sector.

How is the University Hospital Project developing?

The hospital, a multidisciplinary research and teaching facility located in the heart of DHCC, once completed, will be the crown jewel of Dubai's healthcare infrastructure. We are currently working with various partners to ensure the hospital provides high-quality care for patients and a wide variety of learning opportunities for students. At present, our main focus is to select the right partners to support this ambitious, ground-breaking project.

What attracts students to study in DHCC?

DHCC is committed to establishing world-class medical education and research programs in an effort to build a pool of specialized medical talent in the region. Today, such education, supported by dedicated research programs, is very limited within our region. Partnerships with elite multinational and regional institutions will attract more students to DHCC and offer an alternative to some of the more established names in Europe, Asia, and North America.

Dubai's central location, and its appeal as a tourism destination, is a key consideration for students, especially for those in the region keen on gaining international qualifications closer to home.

What can DHCC do to address the shortage of doctors in the region?

Given our specialized infrastructure, we have attracted over 4,000 licensed medical professionals that are working in more than 120 internationally acclaimed healthcare centers, hospitals, and clinics registered here at DHCC. Our free zone status continues to attract medical professionals who are looking to set up their own practices, while utilizing the related benefits and value-added services. As we continue to build our name as an international center of medical excellence, providing globally recognized education, we are confident that we will continue to attract more medical talent to the region, as well as develop home-grown professionals.

Has there been a “brain gain" in Dubai based on what is happening in the region?

Over the past 10 years, DHCC has attracted over 4,000 international healthcare professionals, speaking more than 50 languages and practicing under stringent DHCC-quality guidelines. We are confident that DHCC has witnessed a brain gain due to the strict professional and facility licensing guidelines that we follow, which include primary source verification for every professional. On top of the regulatory framework that has been developed to ensure the attraction of top-notch medical professionals and facilities, DHCC's educational initiatives play a key role in attracting medical professionals that value continuous development, promoting greater diversity in medical expertise and technology.

Which projects will the Al Jalila Foundation be funding, and how might it help shape the future of healthcare in Dubai?

We are working closely with the Al Jalila Foundation to help facilitate partnerships that support medical education and research projects, and will help DHCC and our partners realize our shared aspirations and vision for better healthcare across the region.

How do you see the medical tourism industry shaping up in Dubai?

The Crown Prince of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, launched the health tourism initiative in early 2012, geared at establishing Dubai as a global health tourism hub. DHCC, as the first integrated healthcare free zone, is spearheading this initiative. We are working closely with our counterparts in the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) and the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) to develop a strategy to effectively drive the Health Tourism Initiative. Global revenues from medical tourism are estimated at around $30 billion, and Dubai, as an emerging destination for healthcare tourism, generated revenues of more than $1.5 billion in 2012. That number is expected to increase in 2013. The medical tourism market is extremely important, and we are looking at an annual increase of 7% by 2015. In an effort to support the increasing number of medical tourists, a medical visa was recently introduced to the UAE. The existing three-month visa has been extended to cater for rest and recovery, meaning that patients can stay in Dubai for up to nine months. It allows for the patients' family to stay here, too. Dubai, essentially, with its infrastructure, resources, education, and multicultural society, represents the ideal, modern medical hub.

What was the significance of the inauguration of the MBR-AMC?

DHCC is the result of HH Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum's vision. When His Highness first announced plans to build and operate the first healthcare free zone in 2002, he created a roadmap to establish a medical city that would meet the demand for high-quality healthcare in the region. As part of his vision, HH Sheikh Mohammed highlighted education and research as key priorities within the nation's healthcare offerings. Through the provision of education centers, facilities, and resources at MBR-AMC, we have been able to turn that vision into a reality and offer our students and professionals superb standards of medical education.

What facilities does DHCC offer the local healthcare system, and what quality education is in place to produce a new generation of medical professionals?

The MBR-AMC is home to DHCC's education and research facilities. The center is equipped with the most advanced facilities and resources in the region. When establishing our education projects, we collaborated with globally recognized academic institutions and medical boards to provide a world-class, integrated academic and clinical environment for excellent healthcare education and research.

The center is also home to the Al Maktoum Medical Library, Dubai School for Dental Medicine, Continuous Professional Development Programs, a research support office, and, last but not least, the Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor Medical Simulation Center (KHMSC). KHMSC is the first comprehensive clinical skills training center in the region, and features advanced technology including unique interactive patient simulators. It allows training for both experienced healthcare professionals and students in a simulated, risk-free environment.

Ultimately, our aim is to provide complete medical education and continuous professional development programs across the entire spectrum of healthcare professions through the MBR-AMC to instill a culture of research and knowledge sharing. By providing comprehensive local, quality medical education programs, we are developing a local, sustainable workforce, which will allow people in the region to be treated closer to home.