Reviewing the UAE healthcare

The UAE stands at number 27th in world health systems ranking of the World Health Organization (WHO).

By Sabeena Jalal (At Home)

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Published: Sat 26 Mar 2011, 11:12 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 9:51 AM

While reading the WHO report on healthcare in the UAE, I was struck by the progressive manner in which it has taken its place among the developed nations of the world.

The oil-fuelled surge in economic growth over the past years has seen the UAE’s total population grow at an average annual rate of 10 per cent to just over 4 million by the end of 2003, according to official figures from the Ministry of Planning.

The attainment of an integrated health systems is actually the attainment of three goals: health, responsiveness and fairness of financial contribution.

The UAE has seen notable growth in its health care. Over the past years government health strategies have focused on the welfare of the citizens who are considered to be the country’s major resource and integral to national development. Comprehensive health programmes have been adopted to meet the needs of the UAE society. Currently, the UAE has a comprehensive, government-funded health service and a developing private health sector. The private sector in recent years has become a significant partner in providing comprehensive health care to the people of the UAE. It is now contributing efficiently to curative and preventive services through the hospitals, polyclinics and diagnostic and medical centers and private clinics.

According to the Regional Health System Observatory of EMRO’s published report of 2006, the Ministry of Health’s budget as a percentage of the governmental budget has remained relatively constant at about 7.7 per cent over the years (1982-2001). The 1999 Ministry of Health federal budget amounted to Dh1.44 billion dirhams. Health insurance companies have also made their entry in the last few years; some are national companies whereas others are branches of international organisations. The largest part of the budget specified for health goes to curative services, whereas little goes to the preventive and the primary health care services.

Castro’s article on health care in Dubai notes the most common infectious disease in Dubai is chicken pox with 3,472 reported incidences in 2006. This is followed by Viral Hepatitis B with 392 cases and Pulmonary Tuberculosis with about 312 cases. Heat stroke is also rampant in Dubai due to very scorching summers.

EMRO Report in 2006 said that communicable diseases still pose a problem to the United Arab Emirates despite the fact that the incidence of many communicable diseases has declined sharply in recent years. Viral hepatitis, tuberculosis and meningococcal meningitis are still considered an important public health problem. In recent years, non-communicable diseases, notably cardiovascular diseases, cancers and diabetes, as well as accidents, have been the leading causes of mortality. This is indicative that life style changes are mandatory.

One wonders if the UAE needs a private national company for the management and delivery of health services and health-related programmes? Also, would nationalisation of health professionals help in improving quality of care?

One does see an increase in employer-based health insurance market since individual health insurance is quite expensive. Recent studies of health systems internationally, have shown that using a broker in selecting your health insurance may help, though experts have argued that in the long run some sort of standardisation of rates would be much better. Using electronic medical records more widely across the UAE, would be very useful in registering all patients – the nationals and expats. Switching to the use of generic drugs would also cut huge costs. This should be supervised with a regulatory body to ensure quality and efficiency, perhaps something like the national institute of clinical effectiveness in UK could be set up in the UAE.

Sabeena Jalal is a physician with a Masters in Public Health from Harvard

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