Over the past few years, Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) has embarked on an ambitious programme to increase the level of health and education facilities across the country, as well as implementing reforms designed at opening up these sectors to private enterprise and investment.
Foremost in RAK's plans to strengthen and diversify the emirate's education system is the Education Park, located inside the RAK Free Trade Zone (RAKFTZ), which already hosts a number of international teaching institutions providing classes to some 2500 students. Work is currently underway on the $1bn project, with the first facilities due to open in 2010.
Oussama El Omari, the director general of the RAKFTZ, told local media in August that Education Park would put a particular emphasis on training future workers for the aviation, tourism and hospitality sectors, three areas of the economy RAK has pinpointed as having strong potential for growth.
"In addition, we're interested in promoting the skills of nationals and putting them in the industries we're attracting," said El Omari.
RAK is also moving to improve and expand its health services sector, though unlike its neighbour Dubai, RAK is not promoting itself as a health tourism destination at present, though this could change in time. Instead, RAK is concentrating on upgrading the emirate's health system to meet the needs of its own rapidly growing population.
Indeed, some of the improvements to RAK health facilities are aimed at keeping locals at home during the treatment process. An example of this is the plan by RAK authorities to open a special unit to treat sufferers of the blood disorder thalassaemia, which can cause anemia. In late November it was announced that a new thalassaemia unit would be established, meaning dozens of RAK citizens would not have to travel to other emirates for treatment.
RAK is also working to expand its ranks of health professionals. The RAK Medical and Health Sciences University, established in 2006 by the Human Development Foundation (HDF), a joint venture between the government, Al Ghurair Investments and ETA Ascon Group of Dubai, offers a wide range of accredited courses, aimed at producing medical professionals. As a fee-charging institution, the university looks to attract students from abroad, as well as from RAK, putting it in competition with other medical teaching facilities across the region, in particular Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
To give them a suitable working environment, plans were announced in September for the construction of three new hospitals at a total cost of $195m. The plans also included a scheme to bolster health services in rural areas, including the establishing of mobile medical units that would travel to patients. All three hospitals are scheduled to open their doors in 2010, according to the Ministry of Health.
This accelerated building programme comes partly as a response to the growing need for health services and to past criticism that existing facilities were not sufficient to serve the community fully. Currently, according to media reports citing figures from the central United Arab Emirate's (UAE) Ministry of Health, RAK has three government hospitals with 452 beds and a total staff of 1676 to serve a population of around 200,000. The emirate also has 17 registered health centres specialising in maternity, primary health care, dental and gynaecology, staffed by 307 medical personnel. Between them, RAK's health facilities treated more than 1m patients in 2007.
To help ease this burden, the private sector is being increasingly encouraged to enter the health sector to supplement the state-provided services. Also in November, plans were unveiled for a $21m private hospital to be built in the Al Diq Dag district on the Airport Road.
While praising local businessman Imran Abdullah Rashid for launching the project, Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, RAK's Crown Prince and deputy ruler, called the private sector to invest in both health and education services, describing them as the emirate's top priority.
With a series of new projects currently being undertaken by both the public and private sectors, RAK's prioritised needs are getting closer to being met.