Economic Update

Published 29 Mar 2018

Rising demand is set to drive expansion of Sharjah’s health care sector in the coming years, increasing opportunities for domestic and foreign investment, with a number of new projects already in the development pipeline.

In January local health care provider Zulekha Healthcare Group announced plans to build a second 150-bed hospital in the emirate. The facility will provide patients with affordable primary and secondary care and outpatient services, and operate under the group’s Alexis brand.

According to Taher Shams, managing director of Zulekha Healthcare Group, the hospital is intended to supplement existing facilities, serving as a referral point for its tertiary hospitals in Sharjah and Dubai, which offer oncology, endocrinology and other specialised services.  

Two months later the UAE-based Ahalia Medical Group announced it planned to build a 100-bed general hospital in Sharjah Healthcare City (SHCC), a health-focused free zone under construction near Sharjah International Airport. The facility is set to be the first hospital to open its doors in the SHCC district, which is planned to be operational in 2020.  

Rising demand prompting expansion

These developments will give a much needed boost to the supply side of the sector, which has struggled to keep up with rising demand for services caused by population growth and other socio-economic factors, according to the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq).  

There are currently 18 private hospitals operating in the emirate, along with a range of state-funded clinics, hospitals and other care centres.

Market potential is expected to rise steadily in the medium term, from Dh4.7bn ($1.3bn) to Dh5.6bn ($1.5bn) by 2020, offering significant opportunities for private providers.

Specialised care facilities are particularly in demand, according to industry figures. “The region needs stand-alone specialty centres, especially in cardiology, oncology, diabetics and lifestyle diseases, alongside further investment in general hospitals,” Abdulla Ali Al Mahyan, chairman of the Sharjah Health Authority and SHCC, told OBG.

Health care city aims to attract international providers

Completion of the 2.4m-sq-metre SHCC should see specialist-care capacity increase in the coming years, as Sharjah brings more regional and global health care providers into the sector.

In addition to offering services at the local level, the central aim of SHCC, whose master plan was approved last year, is to provide globally competitive advanced care. In addition to investment opportunities for large- and medium-sized hospitals, it also aims to house clinics for general and specialist treatment, rehabilitation and counselling centres, laboratories and research facilities, as well as other health and wellness offerings.

Incentives on offer to investors include 100% business ownership for foreign entities, and zero tax and duties.

The government is also forming investment partnerships with other countries to boost specialist care and improve the quality of service delivery.

In September last year it signed an agreement with Canada’s Trade Commission Service to develop a Dh1bn ($272.3m) hospital specialising in paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology, along with an associated centre to undertake research into childhood illnesses.

The Canadian agency will also help develop plans and strategies for other health care-related investment projects, according to Emirati officials.

Increased investment to improve health tourism prospects

The moves to expand health care services by attracting international providers and improve quality of care are expected to help the sector strengthen its competitiveness as a global medical tourism destination within the UAE

According to the 2017 Legatum Prosperity Index, which measures the quality of health care services in 149 countries around the world, the UAE ranked 25th, up three places from 2016 and nine places from 2015.