Abu Dhabi: A healthy investment

A rapidly growing population and an ongoing push to modernise and improve medical services mean investment opportunities in Abu Dhabi’s health care sector are on the rise.

In recent years the pace of change in the sector has accelerated, as the structure of health care provision has been overhauled and private firms have been brought in to invest in and operate many new health facilities.

The result of this has been increased capacity, improved standards and enhanced competitiveness. While much progress has been made in the sector so far, there are still plenty of openings for private investment going forward.

Many of the prospects are associated with improving existing healthcare infrastructure or building new facilities. The number of hospital beds will need to rise if future demand is to be met, according to the "Health Statistics Report” issued by the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (HAAD) in 2009. With an expected doubling of the expatriate population by 2019, bed capacity needs to increase by 55%, said the HAAD.

Even today, despite successes in reform, private sector participation and a marked improvement in the overall provision of care, many wards are operating at full, or near-full capacity. Paediatric intensive care units were consistently more than three-quarters full in 2009, said the HAAD. It also said "aggressive growth” is needed in services related to diabetes and cancer, while low capacity in gynaecology and orthopaedics means greater investment is required in those fields as well.

Such statistics highlight the issues that still need to be addressed. However, the government’s resolve to develop a leading health care system, as well as its strong financial position and long-term strategic plans, mean that these will likely be resolved as sector development efforts continue going forward.

The new Mafraq Hospital, which is due to open in 2013, is just one opportunity for investors. When built, it will provide trauma and surgical treatment to one of the fastest growing areas in the emirate, located about 35 km south-east of Abu Dhabi City.

Besides the opportunities related to physical development, investors also enjoy prospects in areas such as the manufacture of medical equipment and related products, IT and medical training and recruitment.

The latter fields in particular offer great potential for private sector participation. The new Mafraq Hospital needs to increase its workforce by between 30% to 35%, according to senior hospital management.

John Nickens, the chief executive of Mafraq Hospital, which is managed by Bumrungrad International of Thailand, told local media that the need to increase staff levels is not a new issue. "There is always a shortage of staff… There has been a shortage for as long as I have been in this industry, 25 years.”

The HAAD report estimates that Abu Dhabi will need up to 102% more doctors over the next decade, a rise from 5300 to 10,700. Meanwhile, the number of nurses will need to increase by as much as 101%, from 6900 to 13,900. Put simply, the number of doctors and nurses in the capital needs to double over the next decade.

Naturally, this will translate into huge demand for health care professionals and the companies that specialise in finding and training such talent.

It may take some time to come up with the best strategy. What is clear, however, is that private companies are going to play an important part in the process. By taking on a more central role, the private sector can help ensure that Abu Dhabi’s health care sector continues to build upon the progress it has made in recent years.

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