Health & Education

A Gram in Time



A Gram in Time

The budget is divided between the Ministry of Health, the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (HAAD), and the DHA, while large investments are often made in the private sector. Dubai Healthcare City […]

The budget is divided between the Ministry of Health, the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (HAAD), and the DHA, while large investments are often made in the private sector.

Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC), a healthcare free zone, has acted as a magnet for investment since its foundation in 2002, and is currently home to 120 internationally acclaimed healthcare establishments. Increasing capacities are aimed at catering to higher local demand and the burgeoning health tourism sector. The American Hospital Dubai, the first hospital in the Gulf to receive Joint Commission International (JCI) accreditation, now sources 8% of its patients from outside the UAE. Increased local demand is being fuelled somewhat by the rise in lifestyle complaints, with cardiovascular diseases the most common cause of death. To fight obesity, the Municipality of Dubai made headlines in 2013 as it announced a one-month campaign called “Your Weight in Gold.” In an effort to help its portly residents lose weight, the authority, over the course of a month, gifted contestants a gram of gold for every kilogram lost, with the winner taking away a gold coin worth $5,545 as well as their per-pound payout. In an extravagant move that got people around the world talking, the campaign was carried out to highlight the health implications associated with affluence, often blamed for sedentarism.

The Ministry of Health is also taking steps to cut the rising cost of medicine, a result of imports due to an insufficient domestic pharmaceuticals industry. The development of more local manufacturers and trading links to other major healthcare consumer markets in the region will be key if more international players are to be tempted to begin production in the UAE.


Regulation is carried out at both the federal and Emirate level, with the main regulatory bodies in the UAE being the Ministry of Health, the DHA, the HAAD, and the Emirates Health Authority (EHA). Dubai’s two healthcare free zones, DHCC and Dubai Biotechnology and Research Park, have their own regulatory bodies. While work has been done to streamline rules, certain areas of authority overlap when it comes to the licensing, monitoring, and control of medical institutions. The EHA is responsible for encouraging cooperation between the federal and local health authorities, and between the authorities and the private sector. It is based in the northern Emirate of Sharjah, the healthcare system of which is overseen by the Ministry of Health, like the rest of the northern Emirates, which mostly lack large regulatory bodies of their own like Dubai’s DHA and Abu Dhabi’s HAAD. DHA, while responsible for regulating services in Dubai, also owns and operates a network of medical facilities, including hospitals, such as the Latifa Hospital, Dubai Hospital, and Rashid Hospital, and primary healthcare and specialty centers, such as the Dubai Diabetes Center.


DHCC was launched in 2002 as a healthcare free zone that is composed of two communities: a medical one, which focuses on clinical services and is composed of two hospitals and medical, dental, and nursing facilities, as well as health schools and a wellness community, which focuses on outpatient clinics, spa resorts, and other wellness services. DHCC currently has 120 internationally acclaimed healthcare centers, hospitals, and clinics employing over 3,700 licensed medical professionals. The free zone has a dual aim, “We are looking at building our name as an international center of medical excellence, as well as being able to provide world-class healthcare locally,” commented Marwan Abedin, CEO of DHCC.

The DHCC, to some extent, is self-regulating through the Dubai Healthcare City Authority (DHCA), although it still falls under the jurisdiction of the DHA. The DHCA has the power to establish and license hospitals and other medical institutions, and also monitors and inspects the entities set out across the DHCC’s 4.1 million square feet of land. The Center for Healthcare Planning and Quality (CPQ) was established within the DHCC in order to maintain standards for healthcare delivery and patient care.

Development is far from done, with several large projects on the horizon. One such project is the University Hospital, which will be a 400-bed multidisciplinary hospital. “The University Hospital Project could be considered the crown jewel of Dubai’s healthcare infrastructure,” stated DHCC’s CEO, Abedin. Another project is the development of a $200 million oncology department at Mediclinic City Hospital, located in the DHCC. “We’re moving into oncology, because we believe we are ready to do so, and there is enough trust for us to start a new endeavor,” said David Hadley, CEO of Mediclinic Middle East.

The DHCC is also significant for the Emirate’s growing medical tourism profile, an important aspect shaping the development of the free zone. Dubai generated over $1.5 billion in revenue from the health tourism sector in 2012, a significant slice of the global industry’s value of $30 billion. “The medical industry is extremely important for us, and we are looking at an annual increase of 7% until 2015,” said Abedin at the DHCC.


Dubai’s expanding population has narrowed the effectiveness of its modest pharmaceuticals manufacturing industry. Today, the UAE imports around 85% of the medicine used in the country, with only 15% of the drugs sold in the local market represented by domestic manufacturing. Europe is the largest source of medicine for the UAE, supplying 64%, while North America and the wider Middle East and North Africa region represent 8% each. The high cost of importation has had a negative effect on prices, a reality that the Ministry of Health has challenged by cutting the retail prices of close to 7,000 medicines by up to 40%. Moving forward, a more concerted effort to promote domestic production is needed if the country is to attain better self-sufficiency. With the GCC region’s population set to reach 53 million by 2020 and its pharmaceutical sector estimated to reach $79 billion in value by 2015, Dubai’s healthcare free zones could be what is needed to bring in investment. This kind of development will rely on the growth of local pharmaceutical firms in a sector that is currently dominated by foreign multinationals. The promotion of local firms would provide foreign firms with more options when looking for a local partner.

With 50% of the UAE’s JCI Accreditation facilities located in Dubai, the Emirate is clearly developing as a healthcare hub in the region. While the government still accounts for 70% of healthcare spending, a rising private sector, growing mainly through the DHCC, will form a larger part of expenditure in the years to come as it expands capacities, works to challenge local health issues, and provides infrastructure for the development of a health tourism industry.