Global Health Ideas

Finding global health solutions through innovation and technology

Arab Healthcare Delivery

Guest post by Khizer Husain, Owner of Shifa Consulting (see also previous post on healthcare in the Emirates)

Three Observations in Arab Healthcare Delivery

I attended the 34th annual Arab Health Congress in Dubai last week. This is the largest regional conference on healthcare. The event was massive: it drew more than 50,000 visitors and 2,300 exhibitors which span all facets of healthcare including care delivery, technology, consulting, staffing. According to the medical director in Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, ‘Our institution looks forward every year to Arab Health as a means of reviewing the latest technology; networking with suppliers and vendors and to update medical knowledge. The increased participation and attendance at Arab Health is of value to all of us in the healthcare field.’ Here are some observations on the delivery of healthcare in this part of the world:

Economic Downturn Putting Projects on Hold

The global financial meltdown has not spared the Middle East and the UAE in particular. There are many sites that are empty pits with cranes standing idle. Hospitals have put on ice new expansion plans. Overall, it is estimated that 8% of the labor force in Dubai has left the country in the last four months due to the worsening economic climate. I heard a couple of people talk about the thousands of cars that were left abandoned at the Dubai airport as people could not pay their loans and thought it best to flee the country. Up until last year, healthcare expenditures in the region were growing 16% per year and exceeding $74B.

The silver lining here is that global steel prices are down 75% and smaller construction projects at well-capitalized institutions can for the first time gain traction. A notable exception to the economic dip is Qatar. According to ArabianBusiness.com, Qatar’s economy (http://www.arabianbusiness.com/541046-qatar-economy-could-grow-by-10-in-2009) could grow 10% in 2009 as it expands exports of liquefied natural gas, making it the world’s fastest growing economy.

Thirst for World-class Standard of Healthcare

There is a strong desire in the Gulf to catch up to the healthcare levels of the industrialized world. Until just a few years ago, the only way to bridge the gap between what national populations desired and what was offered in their native countries, was to open the doors (wide open) to medical tourism. The UAE reportedly spent over $2B per year to ship its citizens to foreign countries for medical treatment. Not only were these expenditures unsustainable, but they put these countries at a competitive disadvantage for recruiting highly skilled expatriates. The only way to turn down the medical tourism spigot was to invest locally in building healthcare expertise. Due to poor perceived quality in local healthcare, stymied access to care, and perverse financial incentives to go abroad for care, medical tourism is still a powerful force.

Enter Multinational Healthcare Corporations

The landscape for international healthcare providers with business in the Middle East is becoming increasing crowded with the major players hailing from the US, Europe, and Canada. There seem to a few dominant models:

a. Market Destination Hospital: A number of institutions have outposts in the Middle East that they use to run clinics and make the necessary arrangements to funnel patients to the flagship entities. Mayo, Washington Hospital Center, University of Chicago follow this model. The Great Ormand Street Hospital in London sends in a rotational team of pediatric specialists to run clinics close to the patients.

b. Secure Management Contract: This is where the cash is. Running a tertiary hospital in the UAE can yield $6M per annum. The big players in this sector include Cleveland Clinic—which runs Sheikh Khalifa Medical City and will run the new Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi when it finishes in a few years. Johns Hopkins International has three affiliate hospitals in the UAE and a hospital in Beirut. UPMC runs the gamut of managing whole hospitals to managing individual departments like the emergency room. The Methodist has teamed up with property development company Emaar to create an outpatient clinic which they will manage—the Burj Medical Centre. Emaar has aggressive plans to expand clinics and hospitals throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

c. Joint Venture: South African Mediclinic obtained ownership share of Emirates Healthcare in 2007 for $53M. With two hospitals and three clinics in the pipeline, they are the largest private provider of healthcare in Dubai. Mediclinic derives nearly half of its profits from overseas ventures (in the Middle East and beyond).

While it is quite exciting to see all this development in healthcare, everyone agrees that the only way to have real, sustainable progress in region is to build an army of indigenous healthcare workers. Unfortunately, the curse of petrodollars is that it leaves little incentive for nationals to aspire to become nurses and doctors, let alone outstanding clinical managers. In the meantime, India and the Philippines serve as the golden geese.

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Written by Guest Contributor

February 4, 2009 at 7:59 pm

2 Responses

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  1. I heard a couple of people talk about the thousands of cars that were left abandoned at the Dubai airport as people could not pay their loans

    sime

    February 6, 2009 at 3:42 am

  2. […] Article on Arab Healthcare Delivery – Observations from the 34th annual Arab Health Congress in […]


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