Ready for the challenge: A revamped medical industry to address growing demand

While the overall economy is currently benefitting significantly from an increase in expatriate companies that are operating out of Ras Al Khaimah, the emirate’s health care industry also stands to profit from the arrival of these newcomers.

Rapid population growth, which climbed to 8% between 2008 and 2010 according to the RAK Department of Economic Development, encourages health care investment and infrastructure upgrades. At the same time, it places a great responsibility on the health care sector to expand sufficiently to support the growing demand for medical treatments. The UAE aims to provide at least one bed per 250 people, but it is still approximately 10,000 beds below target, according to recent figures from RAK Hospital, a private local facility.

Although this shortage of hospital beds puts enormous pressure on health care providers, the sector is prepared to meet these needs. Indeed, both the private and the public sectors in the emirate are pushing to fill the current gap in medical care.

MORE HOSPITALS ON THE WAY: The opening of two new medical facilities will soon be adding to the number of available hospital beds in RAK. In early 2011 the Ministry of Public Works (MoPW) reported that construction on the Abdullah bin Omran Hospital was in the final stages. With a total of 82 beds, the hospital will be capable of serving the medical needs of around 20,500 people, significantly raising the emirate’s hospital care capacity. The institution is set to open in 2012 and is located in the Al Digdaga area, just outside of RAK City.

In addition to general care facilities, Abdullah bin Omran Hospital will include five operating theatres, outpatient clinics, intensive care units, emergency rooms, a physiotherapy department, an x-ray room, a urology centre, a sterilisation unit and a medical lab. There will also be space dedicated to paediatrics, internal medicine, gynaecology and obstetrics, and the hospital will have six rooms reserved for VIP patients. The three-level, 150,000-sq-metre project will cost approximately Dh50m ($13.6m), and additional funds will be spent on outfitting the hospital with new equipment.

The federal Ministry of Health (MoH) is working with Sharjah-based Mazaya Consulting Engineers to build the institution, and Rashid Abdullah Omran, a local businessman, is donating the necessary construction funds. Dr Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim, the minister of health, visited the hospital in early 2011 and highlighted the important role of the private sector in UAE development projects. He emphasised that the MoH welcomed private-public cooperation to meet the country’s health care objectives.

SPECIALIST CARE: The Sheikh Khalifa Specialist Hospital will further expand medical infrastructure in the emirate. Construction on the institution began in May 2009, and the MoPW announced in early 2012 that 97% of the facility was complete.

At the time, medical equipment was already being installed in the hospital, and construction should be finished by September 2012. Perkins Eastman, an international architecture and design firm, is overseeing the development of the hospital, and Emitac Health Care Solutions has been selected to provide the facility with hospital beds.

At a price tag of Dh1bn ($272.2m), the hospital will hold 248 beds and will have the capacity to serve the health care needs of approximately 62,000 individuals. The Sheikh Khalifa Specialist Hospital stands six levels high and covers around 57,000 sq metres, with possible expansion plans for the future. The institution also has two helicopter landing pads and two parking areas with a total capacity of about 640 cars, according to the MoPW.

The Sheikh Khalifa Specialist Hospital will focus on treating heart diseases, cancer and medical emergencies. Outpatient clinics, an area for diagnostic imaging, an emergency department, a radiology unit and an administrative wing will make up the ground floor. The first floor of the hospital will include 40 beds with 10 rooms dedicated to a department for heart disease diagnosis, a burns unit, a heart disease intensive care division and a surgery department. The second through fourth floors will house an additional 200 beds, in addition to the hospital’s main laboratory and eight VIP suites. The top floor is reserved for electromechanics.

The new hospital is doing more than simply adding beds to an undersupplied market, however. According to Yasser Issa Al Nuaimi, the director of RAK Medical Zone, the emirate’s primary health services complex, the Sheikh Khalifa Specialist Hospital, is being constructed to improve the provision of specialised care for the Northern Emirates region. Currently patients seeking these types of treatment have to travel to Abu Dhabi or Dubai, and this is creating problems in emergency situations.

OTHER SPECIALTY CENTRES: While the new specialty hospital is a significant step forward in the treatment of certain serious health issues in the Northern Emirates, a number of smaller but equally important advances are being made in RAK.

Saqr Hospital, the largest public hospital in the emirate, recently revealed plans to use a new machine in the treatment of diabetic ulcers and infections. The new device, which was donated by the RAK Charity Organisation, uses water technology to treat diabetes-related conditions and is the first such machine to be used in the region. Assuming it achieves expected results, additional units will be purchased to outfit the emirate’s other public hospitals.

In addition, Saqr Hospital announced in January 2012 that it had received a radio frequency generator to be used for the treatment of varicose veins. Commercial Bank International donated the Dh58,000 ($15,800) machine, which is known as VNUS, and hospital administrators expect the device to be in frequent use, given the current high level of demand for varicose treatment among patients.

EYE CARE: The private sector is also developing specialty care facilities. RAK Hospital, a 65-bed private institution that has been in operation since November 2007, has plans for a diabetes treatment centre and intends to build a speciality eye centre alongside its main facility. In early 2011 the hospital signed an agreement with Medfort Hospitals and the L V Prasad Eye Institute (LVPEI), two India-based firms, to establish the new eye centre.

At the signing ceremony, RAK Hospital’s executive director, Raza Siddiqui, explained that the RAK LVPEI institute aims to serve the vision needs of RAK residents, as well as those in the surrounding region. “Blindness and vision impairment are major public health problems all over the world, including the UAE region,” added LVPEI’s chairman, G N Rao. “Consequently, there is a great need to develop eye care centres of high quality in the area.”

Staffed with nurses and doctors from LVPEI, the new RAK LVPEI centre intends to move beyond caring for existing vision complications to include preventive measures. The centre will be working to help eradicate preventable blindness in the emirate. The first step in this direction requires individually screening every RAK resident for blindness susceptibility. The screening initiative will take two to three years to complete, and the primary data collected will not only play a critical role in the eradication of preventable blindness but will, in addition, provide very valuable data about local residents.

TOURISM: As the emirate continues to upgrade its hospital infrastructure and develop specialty care centres, RAK is increasingly positioning itself as a medical tourism centre in the region. Premium hospitality and health care at competitive prices are key components for a medical tourism destination, and RAK is making progress on all these fronts.

As outlined above, health care in the emirate is expanding and specialty care centres are further widening medical treatment options in RAK. The emirate offers tourists a selection of 14 four- and five-star hotels, and tourism costs in RAK are typically more attractive than those in nearby Dubai. RAK is a relatively short trip from Europe, and visitors have the option of flying directly to the emirate or travelling to the Dubai airport before making a 45-minute drive to RAK in the north-east.

Some more time is needed before RAK can fully develop its medical tourism capabilities. Nonetheless, the industry will advance in tandem with the emirate’s continued expansion of health care facilities and the supporting industry. New hospitals, facility upgrades and the construction of specialty care centres are indicative of a robust and growing health care sector in RAK today.

These additions will help to fill a crucial need as demand for medical treatment rises along with the population, and they will also build a base for a new form of tourism to the emirate. Both the overall economy and as those living in RAK stand to benefit from the quickly growing health care industry.

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