Oasis of health

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Oasis of health

When 23-year-old Aisha Haddi Al Dhaheri learned of the American newcomer in the neighbourhood who was holding a clinic next door, she immediately went to introduce herself.

By Olivia Olarte

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Published: Sat 23 Jul 2011, 9:43 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 8:02 AM

That was how she met Dr Marian Kennedy for the first time. The visit was immediately reciprocated, Mariam, as she was known by the residents of Al Ain, shared tea and food with her in true Emirati fashion.

Al Dhaheri’s regard for Dr Marian grew that on her third pregnancy, she finally allowed the lady doctor to deliver her daughter, Ruwaia, at the small “Kennedy Clinic”, which doubled as the family homestead. Her succeeding six children were also delivered at the clinic, later on named the Oasis Hospital.

“She was a very nice lady. At that time, there was no telephone line so she had a routine; she visited all the local houses. Everyone was welcome to her house anytime and she treated patients even after midnight,” fondly reminisced the now 60-something mother.

Missionary doctors Marian and her husband Pat Kennedy came to Al Ain in November 1960 at the invitation of Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and his brother, Shaikh Shakhbut.

At that time, the health of the city was in a harrowing state and its population declining. Only half of the newborns survived and one in three mothers died during birth. The community was afflicted with tuberculosis, malaria, eye diseases and intestinal parasites. It was in dire need of proper healthcare.

“It was remarkable the patience that Shaikh Zayed and Shaikh Shakhbut have for their people. It was in 1959 when they actually invited the healthcare workers to come and look at Al Ain. There was nothing at that time; there was no oil, no money. But he had a great vision and compassion for his people. He knew that they needed to have healthcare,” related David Printy, CEO of Oasis Hospital.

Using the mud brick guest house loaned by Shaikh Zayed, the Christian couple turned it into a clinic and started their mission with the delivery of a baby from a complicated labour. Word about their good feat spread quickly and not before long, the Kennedys became a household name with patients from as far as Oman travelling long hours by camel or on foot to seek treatment from the missionaries.

The Kennedys provided the first modern healthcare in the region. “They were really close to the local people. They spoke very good Arabic. They made house visits and attended weddings,” said Thomas Kutty, 59, support services director at Oasis Hospital.

Kutty is one of the remaining few who are still with the hospital after a number of years. He has served in various roles for the past 36 years.

“In the evening when there was no doctor around, patients would go to their houses to attend to their cases. Doctors then were living (early 70s) in one compound,” he recalled.

Payment was also not an issue. Patients received treatment, whether they could pay or not. “It was not very expensive, maybe Dh5 to Dh10 but for those without money, treatment was free. Dr Mariam said don’t worry about the money. Even if you don’t have money, you should come for treatment,” Al Dhaheri remembered.

Four years after the Kennedys arrived, the first concrete hospital was built with 20 patient rooms. The hospital was the single source of medical treatment in Al Ain, treating around 200 patients a day.

During the first 10 years, over 4,000 babies were born in Al Ain. For the past 50 years, the hospital has overseen the births of over 90,000 babies. These include members of the royal family such as General Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Spreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and his brothers Shaikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Ruler’s Representative in the Western Region, Lt. Gen. Shaikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister, and Shaikh Saeed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

In 1975, the Kennedys returned to the US and new doctors came to take their place. But for a long time afterwards, the hospital and the whole area was known as the Kennedy Hospital, Kennedy shabia or the Kennedy roundabout.

“When Mariam Kennedy came back, one year later for a visit, she came and visited the local families in the area and asked us how we were. That was really nice,” smiled Al Dhaheri.

From mud bricks to pre-fabricated building to concrete, Oasis Hospital underwent changes through the years, but its history and legacy remained in its original site, as well as in the heart of the people of Al Ain.

It is now getting its final transformation, thanks to the generous gift of the Royal family, to transform Oasis further into achieving the highest standard of healthcare to benefit the people for whom it was founded.

When the new Oasis Hospital opens in spring next year, it will have the capacity to treat 18,000 outpatients per month, receive12,000 inpatients annually and deliver 4,000 babies per year.

The hospital, which was built to treat 5,000 outpatients a month, at present sees around 13,000. With 50 beds, the hospital currently admits 7,700 patients and delivers 3,000 babies every year.

With the new 45,000sqm facility, the hospital will have 110 beds and specialised clinics in orthopaedic, ophthalmology, diabetes management and will offer more expanded surgery services.

“Oasis Hospital became more than just a healthcare facility; it really became the foundation for economic development in the Eastern Region and beyond, (demonstrating) mutual respect for people from all religious, ethnic and economic backgrounds,” noted Printy.


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