Investing in Health

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Abu Dhabi is making strides to enhance its healthcare infrastructure by building several new medical facilities, most of which involve private sector participation.

Zaid Al Siksek, chief executive of the Health Authority - Abu Dhabi (HAAD), told OBG, "There are many reasons why it is important to privatise healthcare. But mainly we want to try to reduce the level of inefficiencies and build trust in the healthcare system."

Traditionally, public institutions have provided the majority of medical needs in the emirate, leading to "many inefficiencies in both a clinical and administrative sense," said Al Siksek. Currently, less than 800 out of a total of 3,900 beds are privately managed, according to the government policy agenda for 2007-2008.

Policymakers envision placing beds under the control of the private sector and partnering with health companies to upgrade existing public facilities. It is hoped that by doing so, the government can focus on prevention, public education and awareness campaigns, as opposed to hands-on treatment.

An integral element of this plan is to establish international partnerships with eminent foreign medical institutions, as the government recognises that these partners can bring expertise and technical know-how to Abu Dhabi.

One such recent initiative is the National Reference Laboratory (NRL). The project, announced last week, will be a joint venture between Mubadala Healthcare, the specialist division of Mubadala Development Company, and Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings, known as LabCorp. Scheduled for completion in 2009, the laboratory will lead the way in the region for both routine and esoteric testing. Currently, such tests must be sent abroad for analysis, mostly to Europe.

This venture is part of a slew of new projects that the emirate has taken on with the purpose of meeting the specific health requirements of patients in the UAE.

One instance is the 2006 opening of the Imperial College London Diabetes Centre, which specialises in diabetes treatment, research, training and education. The centre is aimed at tackling the UAE's egregious diabetes rate, the second worst in the world.

Another example is the Abu Dhabi Knee & Sports Medicine Centre, established in 2007 as the first healthcare facility in the Middle East to specialise in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with knee and sports-related injuries.

Furthermore, January of this year saw the creation of Minhaal, the first dual-language online resource providing accurate and up-to-date medical information in both English and Arabic.

Other breakthrough facilities are also planned to come on line in the near future, including Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, a 360-bed hospital due to open in early 2011, and Tawam Molecular Imaging Centre, to be launched in 2009 at the Tawam Hospital Campus in Al-Ain City, and which will be operated in partnership with Johns Hopkins Medicine International.

Additionally, Abu Dhabi Spine Centre, a special medical facility devoted to spinal injuries based on minimally invasive treatment principles, is scheduled for completion by the end of 2010, in partnership with Wooridul Spine Hospital of Korea.

Finally, Arzanah Medical & Diagnostic Centre, which plans to provide a range of medical specialties as well as advanced diagnostic imaging, will open in 2010 at Arzanah, the mixed-use development surrounding Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi.

The necessity for a clutch of new facilities is due mostly to population growth. According to estimates from the government's "Plan Abu Dhabi 2030: Urban Structure Framework Plan," the population of the emirate is expected to mushroom from its current figure of 1.4m to 3.1m by 2030.

But with the array of new world-class health centres, the emirate - and indeed the region - still faces the challenge of supplying them with commensurate staff, despite the government's efforts to attract and retain talent and to focus on training future domestic care professionals.

"It has been a problem in terms of turnover of healthcare professionals in the country," said Al Siksek.

The reason for the shortage in the UAE can be attributed to a lack of local graduates from such professions as medicine and nursing. While the government is investing in local education institutions to improve this, and reports say figures are improving, the problem cannot be instantly solved. Additionally, facilities in Abu Dhabi are often in direct competition for the services of health professionals with hospitals in other parts of the world.

"The healthcare industry will face great difficulties in the near future recruiting and retaining good, qualified professionals in all aspects of the industry because demand exceeds by far what is available," Taysir Khatib, regional director of the UAE branch of the Mayo Clinic, recently told the local media.

It is hoped that Abu Dhabi's host of new medical facilities will contribute to reversing this trend.

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