Identified as a priority sector by the UAE government, the UAE healthcare sector has displayed extraordinary growth and significant progress in the past few years. It is projected to grow at an average annual growth rate of 7% from 2015 to 2020 as per the “UAE Healthcare Sector Outlook 2020”.

Factors supporting growth

The UAE is composed of a multinational diverse population. There is a boom in the healthcare sector due to population growth, chronic disease prevalence, aging population and growing medical tourism in the region.

Increase in Population

Improved social and economic conditions, a decline in mortality rates and higher fertility rates have furthered population growth in the region. Colliers International estimates that the population of Dubai is expected to exceed 3.5 million in 2020. Also expatriates account for about 80% of UAE’s population.

Rising Income – Sedentary Lifestyles

Urbanization and rising per capita income have led to an inactive lifestyle in the region, which now has among the highest obesity levels in the world. A conspicuous 70% of men and 67% of women aged 15 years and older in the UAE are considered overweight. This has aggravated the prevalence of lifestyle ailments such as diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and other cardiovascular diseases. The UAE ranks second highest in the world for diabetes prevalence.

An Aging Population

As the current population of the UAE ages, there is likely to be a sharp rise in healthcare demand as almost 80% of a person’s healthcare requirements typically occurs after the age of 40 – 50. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the UAE, where it accounts for 41% of all mortalities. Treatment for cardiovascular disease is expected to account for 24% of the total healthcare expenditure in 2025 compared to less than 12% of the total expenditure today. This will be followed by significant spending on infectious diseases, digestive diseases, cancer and other diseases.

Medical Tourism

Health and wellness tourism is expected to continue to grow strongly with a predicted value CAGR of 12%. Cosmetic treatments account for a large percentage followed by specialty treatments.

Government Support

The UAE is actively expanding its national healthcare system to meet the medical needs of its citizens and

Advantage Emirates

The UAE is ranked 27 in world health systems as per the World Health Organization (WHO).

Entities such as Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HAAD), Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (SEHA) and Dubai Health Authority (DHA) have developed a highly efficient health service system that includes sophisticated physical infrastructure and cutting edge IT services.

Health care is provided in over 70 public and private hospitals. In addition, over 150 healthcare centers and clinics focus on primary care. Medical consultation and treatment is free for UAE nationals in most cases and subsidized for expatriates at government-run hospitals.

According to various reports, prior to 2014, less than half of Dubai’s population had medical insurance. Thus, the government is making healthcare insurance mandatory in the region. In 2013, Dubai Health Authority (DHA) issued a Health Insurance Law making medical coverage compulsory in the Emirate of Dubai. Implemented in stages, the law will be fully effective by 2016.

Difficulties Faced

Despite strong support from the UAE government, private healthcare providers still face significant challenges to operate and grow in the UAE. One of the key limitations to development is the lack of standardization of regulations across the country and the various stages of healthcare development of each Emirate. Other challenges include the cost and complexity of regulation requirements and licensing.

Another major challenge is the ability to attract and retain quality staff in order to deliver on the promise of quality healthcare services. Furthermore, it is quite common for nursing and allied health professionals (i.e. medical technicians) to use their experience in the UAE and in Dubai as a launch pad to practice medicine in larger more established markets, typically spending only 3 to 5 years in the country.

As of today, there are only 2.7 nurses and 1.5 doctors per 1,000 people. Thus the government has put initiatives in place, one of them being that Emirati and expat graduates of UAE-based medical colleges no longer need to have two years of work experience in order to be licensed. Instead, they can simply work in the UAE at a secondary or tertiary hospital for at least two years. Moreover three new medical colleges have been set up this year with five nursing schools planned over the coming ten years.

In comparison to other developed countries, the infrastructure and equipment is good but not sufficient enough to keep up with the growing industry. According to Essa Al Maidoor, the director general of the Dubai Health Authority, “The emirate will need 8,000 more beds, 7,323 more doctors and 8,510 nurses in the next decade.” The government plan also includes establishing 40 new primary healthcare centers and three new hospitals. 

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