A new medical centre is set to spearhead Sharjah’s efforts to tap into foreign investment in health care as the government moves to meet rising demand and expand into medical tourism.
Sharjah is keen to expand its health sector, which has been earmarked for growth on the back of several major developments. A study conducted by the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) late last year forecast the emirate’s health care sector would grow an annual average of 9.3% over the next four years from an expected $1.25bn in 2013 to almost $1.8bn in 2016.
Shurooq’s chief executive officer, Marwan Bin Jassim Al Sarkal, expects this growth to stem from several major projects and new medical facilities. “Various new projects are either in planning or execution stages, while many others are in the pipeline, ,” he said in mid-December, when the report was released.
In its findings, the report said the emirate would need to expand its existing health facilities to allow for Sharjah’s growing population. It said 600 additional hospital beds would be required over the next five years, and other health-related services, such as pharmaceutical production and supply, would also need to be developed to meet rising demand.
Al Sarkal added that expansion provided plenty of investment openings for firms operating in the sector. “Despite growing demand for health care services and pharmaceuticals, only a few players operate across the sector’s value chain, thus indicating that opportunities still exist for foreign players to undertake strategic partnerships with local and regional institutions to tap the potential of the undeveloped health care market,” he said.
The emirate will be hoping that a move to offer 100% foreign-owned investment opportunities to service providers at the Sharjah Healthcare City (SHCC) will generate interest from investors and industry players.
The medical hub, to be sited close to Sharjah University City, will operate as a free zone when launched in the second quarter of the year. The centre will incorporate hospitals, polyclinics, laboratories, rehabilitation centres and storage and production units, over an area of 2.4m sq metres.
According to the Sharjah Health Authority, the SHCC will play a pivotal role in serving the needs of health care and auxiliary service providers across the region, while also solving the problem of hospital bed shortfalls in Sharjah and other northern emirates.
Officials are confident the SHCC will place the emirate’s medical services at the forefront of the region’s health care industry even though the new zone faces tough competition from other, long-established hubs. In a move to shore up support for its project, representatives of the Sharjah Health Authority held talks with officials from Singapore in late December to discuss possible investment opportunities for the island’s service providers at the SHCC and ways in which the two parties could bolster health care links.
Singapore is one of the world’s leaders in health tourism, notching up roughly 1m overseas visitors for medical treatment last year. Its health care infrastructure has been rated number one in Asia and sixth globally by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
In the initial development phase, the SHCC will offer opportunities to building firms, technical service providers and equipment suppliers. Once the centre opens its doors, Sharjah’s government will be hoping that the medical hub’s tax-free status will also attract overseas health care groups.