Gulf private sector now has bigger role in healthcare

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Gulf private sector now has bigger role in healthcare
Dr Azad Moopen at the opening of a healthcare center.

The ongoing Arab Health Exhibition is a great platform for the private sector to discuss how we focus on the infrastructure that is needed to bring world-class services to the region.

By Dr Azad Moopen

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Published: Sun 24 Jan 2016, 7:35 PM

Last updated: Mon 25 Jan 2016, 8:56 AM

This is a momentous period for the Middle East with oil prices tumbling to a record low last week.
Governments in the region have traditionally channelled their oil wealth for infrastructure development, including in the healthcare sector. The decline in oil revenues has prompted governments to refocus on economic diversification, and to strengthen the role of the private sector in social development.
Saudi Arabia, for example, has called for the private sector to step up its role in healthcare while other Gulf nations already have robust frameworks that promote stronger involvement of private entrepreneurs in healthcare delivery.
This is more than an opportunity. I believe that it is the responsibility of the private sector, which has enjoyed the support of the governments in the past, to rise up to the occasion and take a more responsible approach and invest in building the region's healthcare infrastructure.
The ongoing Arab Health Exhibition is a great platform for the private sector to discuss how we focus on the infrastructure that is needed to bring world-class services to the region.
More private sector investment is critical to address the rising burden of healthcare costs. For decades, healthcare had been subsidised, with governments taking the onus of delivering care for their citizens. The support that the citizens receive, no doubt, will and should continue.
Preventive care, diagnosis
But by investing in world-class healthcare infrastructure, focusing on providing efficient, yet affordable healthcare and emphasising on preventive care and early diagnosis, the private sector can help the region to address the rising expenditure on healthcare delivery.
A preventive and early diagnosis approach is even more critical for the region because unlike several other parts of the world that have to fight communicable diseases, the Gulf region faces the challenge of managing non-communicable diseases.
In what is now described in common parlance as 'lifestyle diseases', conditions such as diabetes, cardio-vascular disease and cancer are manageable if diagnosed early, thus potentially enhancing the efficiency of care and reducing the cost of treatment.
This is an area where the private sector can take an active role. We have the responsibility not only to provide the best-in-class care but also focus on strengthening awareness about lifestyle diseases and encouraging the public to promote healthy lifestyle practices.
This has been the focus of Aster DM Healthcare, ever since I founded it as a small clinic in Bur Dubai 30 years ago. Today, with over 290 hospitals, clinics and pharmacies, we have evolved as a fully integrated healthcare provider, catalysed by the government's focus to promote private sector participation in healthcare delivery.
Payback time
That is why I emphasise on the private sector's responsibility to give back and support the government and community with the highest standards of care.
We are fully committed to achieving the goals outlined in the UAE Vision 2021 to deliver world-class care for the people. Our new investments in hospitals aim to deliver timely, relevant and quality healthcare that specifically addresses the growing incidence of lifestyle diseases.
With Dubai's population set to grow to 3.4 million by 2020, and the healthcare sector projected to grow at an annual rate of seven per cent through the next five years, investing in modern infrastructure, training the next generation of professionals, especially Emiratis, and focusing on health awareness initiatives will continue to be our strategic approach.
Another core area that healthcare providers must focus on is to leverage the latest in healthcare technology - especially the advanced digital solutions and cloud-based healthcare delivery platforms - that help achieve better patient outcomes and enhance the efficiency of hospitals.
Recently, we launched the Aster@Home programme that enables doctors to track patient data, improves doctor-patient communication and allows for more flexible medical care.
Promoting a culture of localised innovation in healthcare is equally important, which also complements the 'Unified in Knowledge' pillar of the UAE Vision 2021. Inspired by the nation's progress in technology, we have been heavily investing in piloting innovative ideas and partnering with technology leaders to make more informed and effective diagnoses for patients and practitioners.
Public private partnerships
The private sector can also step in as governments' trusted partners in healthcare delivery through public private partnership (PPP) projects. Over the past 10 years, the GCC has invested around $628 billion in PPP projects across diverse industries. There is no reason why PPPs cannot succeed in healthcare, a sector that is crucial for the community.
With mandatory health insurance coming into effect this year in the UAE and the nation's decision to adopt a ratings system for public hospitals, the healthcare sector will continue to witness remarkable change. Public hospitals will compete to be the best, and the private sector will have to redefine their standards of efficiency.
This is an interesting era of evolution for the UAE's healthcare sector as the nation strives to be among the best in the world in all human development indices. The private sector must share the responsibility and shoulder the task of assuring a world-class healthcare infrastructure in the UAE. That is what we already do at Aster.
- The writer is the chairman and managing director of Aster DM Healthcare. Views expressed are his own and do not reflect the newspaper's policies.

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