Emirates Today: UAE’s Leading Position in Medical Tourism

Medical tourism is an area in which the UAE has excelled, proving its ability to achieve its goals through careful planning and successful implementation. According to the recent Medical Tourism Association Index, the UAE leads among GCC states, and in the region, in this growing sector. The Medical Tourism Association is a non-profit US-based organization, established twelve years ago. The third issue of the index compared forty-six destinations around the world; organized according to American perceptions of three key areas. These were the destination’s overall appeal, the strength of safety procedures, and the quality of medical care received. In the index, Dubai ranked sixth, while Abu Dhabi ranked ninth.

The UAE’s high ranking on the index reflects efforts that have been made to ensure the country’s global prominence within medical tourism, a sector which offers opportunities for economic diversification, as part of a wider objective to establish “a competitive knowledge economy based on innovation”. This is a key pillar of the UAE National Agenda 2021, which calls for consistent efforts to “move to a knowledge-based economy by promoting innovation, research and development; strengthening the regulatory framework for key sectors; and encouraging high value-adding sectors”.

The UAE’s appeal as a destination for medical tourism depends on the quality of services it provides. It is home to a number of prominent medical centers that have been accredited by Joint Commission International (JCI). The UAE has also managed to attract world-class medical organizations, such as Cleveland Clinic, which provides high-quality medical services in Abu Dhabi. In addition, the UAE offers competitive pricing for medical services, short waiting times and a broad network of medical organizations across the country. Meanwhile, the UAE’s thriving tourism scene, which ensures a safe, tolerant and multicultural environment, offers additional advantages for patients and their families.

Several years ago, the process of establishing a regulatory framework for medical tourism began at the local and federal levels. In 2014, Dubai established the Health Tourism Council, as part of Dubai Health Authority, to position the emirate as a world-class medical tourism destination. Through this process, a number of medical specializations were identified, in which Dubai could compete internationally and ensure consistently high-quality treatment. These include cosmetic surgery, orthopaedic surgery, ophthalmology and ophthalmological surgery, dentistry, dermatology and assisted reproduction. This is in addition to particular strengths in supporting general wellness and recovery, and state-of-the-art medical testing.

Abu Dhabi also aims to become a medical tourism hub, particularly through joint efforts between “the key players in tourism, transport, immigration and healthcare to offer an unprecedented seamless high quality specialized healthcare product to international patients.” Abu Dhabi has hosted a number of major international medical tourism events, such as the World Medical Tourism and Global Healthcare Conference, which took place from October 15 to 17, 2019. Delegations from 100 countries attended the conference, representing hospitals, insurance companies and government institutions. During the conference, the Department of Health–Abu Dhabi announced the availability of “250 specialized packages from around forty providers” on a new medical tourism e-portal, also emphasizing that quality is Abu Dhabi’s main focus when attracting medical tourists. The Department of Health confirmed that more than 20,000 medial tourists visited Abu Dhabi in 2018, from ninety-three countries, an increase of 20 percent compared to 2017.

Estimates indicate that GCC states have spent approximately $20 billion on the treatment of their citizens abroad. As a result, health plans in the UAE have contributed to bolstering medical tourism, which has seen growth globally, transforming it from a sector that was not particularly profitable, into a major source of revenue. This epitomizes the principle of turning challenges into opportunities; a principle exemplified by the successful.