UAE Golden Jubilee: Meet Abu Dhabi's first certified pharmacist

Dr Ahmed Zohbi recalls Sheikh Zayed's vision for the country's healthcare sector


Ismail Sebugwaawo

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Dr. Ahmed Zohbi, second left, with other Abu Dhabi chief pharmacists who took on the role after him. Pic was taken in 1993. Photo: Supplied
Dr. Ahmed Zohbi, second left, with other Abu Dhabi chief pharmacists who took on the role after him. Pic was taken in 1993. Photo: Supplied

Published: Sun 28 Nov 2021, 6:46 PM

Last updated: Sun 28 Nov 2021, 7:21 PM

Dr Ahmed Zohbi, the first Abu Dhabi chief pharmacist, says the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, UAE’s founding Father, had asked him to take good care of the Emiratis’ health because “they were everything to the nation and were the future leaders.”

The 85-year-old Syrian national also recalls Sheikh Zayed’s great care about the health of his people and how he was keen on building the country’s healthcare sector and making it first-class to treat the citizens and everyone else.

Dr Zohbi, a graduate of the American University in Beirut, was offered the role of chief pharmacist of Abu Dhabi soon after he arrived in the emirate.

In an exclusive interview to Khaleej Times, Dr Zohbi recalls the day he landed at the Abu Dhabi Airfield, the first airport in Abu Dhabi, on May 17, 1967.

“I was shocked when we landed on a sandy runway. Along there was a tiny sandstone terminal. There was nothing in Abu Dhabi then; it was almost sand everywhere. There were only a few scattered buildings in the city,” Zohbi recalls.

Photo: Supplied
Photo: Supplied

The Syrian, who was a close friend to Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Nahyan, says when he arrived in Abu Dhabi, there were no hotels by then.

He was taken to an elementary school along Hamdan Street, where the du telecommunications building is presently located and was given a room there to stay.

He was later moved to the Central Hospital (currently Sheikh Khalifa Medical City), where he was supposed to do his work.

“This was the first hospital in Abu Dhabi. I found almost nothing there. But it was quickly furnished with some medical equipment,” said the Syrian doctor.

“Dr. Philip Hebrew, a British national, was the director of Health Services in Abu Dhabi by then. When I met him, he said to me, “Ahmed, you see nothing here, but be patient, we are here to build the healthcare sector and we have started now,” said Zohbi.

During his four-year tenure as Abu Dhabi’s chief pharmacist, the Syrian built a central store to store medicines and all pharmaceutical products. He also created a narcotics department and trained 12 assistant pharmacists as there were non-by at that time.

Dr Ahmed Zohbi. Photo: Supplied
Dr Ahmed Zohbi. Photo: Supplied

Encounter with Sheikh Zayed

Dr. Zohbi said he met Sheikh Zayed twice when he was still the chief pharmacist during the Eid holidays.

“During my second meeting with Sheikh Zayed, I sat just beside him, and he asked me. What do you do? I replied to him that I was Abu Dhabi’s chief pharmacist,” the Syrian recalls.

“He asked me again. What exactly are you doing as the chief pharmacist? I explained to him that first I classify the medicines which should be used in hospitals and this classification goes down to anti-biotics, to energetics, to anti-diarrhea, to vitamins, extra. It took me half an hour to explain to him everything about my work.

“He then said to me: “We are happy that you came here to help us. But I would like to give you some advice, take good care of the UAE nationals. Most of them are bare-footed, they may look dirty, but these are our people. These are the ones we try to teach to become everything in our nation. They are our future leaders,” he said.


Dr Zohbi said Sheikh Zayed’s vision was to make the UAE health sector one of the biggest globally, so citizens didn’t have to travel abroad to seek medical care.

“During the early days, healthcare was free for everyone. UAE nationals and expats. You didn’t need to pay anything in the hospital for medical services, including operations. You didn’t need to pay for anything,” he said.

Describing Sheikh Zayed, Dr Zohbi says the UAE’s founding Father was a very humble man despite being a leader.

“Sheikh Zayed was very interested to hear health experts talk about health in the outside world, invasions, new medicines and medical equipment. He used to say I want the best in the world for my people,” he said.

“Sheikh Zayed loved his people very much. He wanted everyone to be treated well and with great respect.”

Resigning government job to start private business

Immediately after the formation of the UAE, the Syrian medical expert resigned from his government job and started a joint-pharmaceutical business with colleague Dr Abdul Rahman Mahmid. He had studied with him at the university and was also working in Abu Dhabi by then.

“We started City Pharmacy, a firm dealing and supplying medicines and medical equipment in the UAE. It was the biggest pharmaceutical company in the country by then and still the best till now,” said Dr Zohbi, adding that in 1995, he started his own firm-Amreet Trading Company, which also deals in medical supplies, and he’s still the managing director of the firm.


The Syrian expat also owns a factory in Dubai’s Jabel Ali- Amreet Factory that manufactures various products.

Proud of the UAE

Dr Zohbi says the UAE is now his home and that he feels happy he has stayed in the UAE with his family for all these years and has witnessed all the country’s achievements and developments.

“I love the UAE. People in this country are loving and hospitable. I am proud of the UAE, and I feel attached to this great nation. When I go back to Syria, I feel like a stranger,” he said, adding that the last time he visited Syria, he had spent 11 years without returning to his born country.

The Syrian stays in Abu Dhabi with his wife, and the couple has only one son.

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