Dubai reveals master plan for 500,000 medical tourists a year

More than 20 new hospitals will be built in the next few years with the number of staff expected to increase by 15 per cent in the private sector.

Essa Al Maidoor, director general of the Dubai Health Authority, said thousands of staff will be hired as part of the city's plan to become a medical tourism hub by the time it hosts Expo 2020. Pawan Singh / The National
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DUBAI // Dubai will build 22 hospitals as part of plans to attract 500,000 medical tourists a year and boost its economy by up to Dh2.6 billion by 2020.

Thousands of staff will be hired and new visas offered as part of the emirate’s plan to become a major centre for medical tourism by the time it hosts Expo 2020.

“Our target is to attract 500,000 people only for medical tourism by 2020,” said Essa Al Maidoor, director general of the DHA, or Dubai Health Authority.

“The medical tourism strategy has been designed over two phases. The first one has been chalked out until 2016 and the second until 2020.”

The authority said 18 private and four public hospitals would be built in the next few years, with the number of private-sector healthcare staff expected to increase by more than 3,800.

Private hospitals will target patients from the Commonwealth of Independent States, including Belarus, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and in South Asia and Arabian Gulf nations.

Treatments to be offered include orthopaedic and sports medicine, plastic surgery, ophthalmology, dental procedures, dermatology, preventive medicine and skin care.

Medical tourists will be issued with new visas and a choice of travel and accommodation packages.

“The packages will include visa, hotel stay and activities in Dubai,” said Dr Ramadan Ibrahim, director of the health regulation department and director of the project at the DHA.

“We will launch these packages by the end of the year. We are working with private healthcare facilities and have done a workshop and survey with them.

“There will be different categories of visas depending on the speciality of the treatment.”

The DHA also plans to rate hospitals from one to five stars, depending on the quality of their services, within the next two years.

“We want to have a clear-cut ranking system to enable medical tourists to discern what type of facility they want based on the price and place,” Dr Ibrahim said.

“We haven’t developed a system yet. It is in the process and should be ready by 2016.”

The authority wants Dubai to be on par with medical tourism destinations such as the US, Singapore, Thailand and India.

It is already popular with people seeking a range of treatments.

In 2012, 107,000 medical tourists visited the emirate, generating Dh652 million. By 2016, the DHA expects that number to increase to 170,000, with revenues of about Dh1.1bn.

Mr Al Maidoor conceded there were challenges in achieving the goals, with many people from the UAE often choosing to travel overseas for treatment.

“You will find people going outside for treatment,” he said. “We can’t stop people from going back and forth so we are creating a model to attract patients.

“We have very famous and good doctors and people are travelling to receive treatment here.

“We have doctors in orthopaedics, dentistry, ophthalmology and plastic surgery.

“Dubai is trying to create an environment that will attract the best doctors worldwide.”

Mr Al Maidoor said the DHA was also trying to address shortages in the number of medical staff in the emirate.

“We have continuing education programmes to enhance, educate and attract medical staff from all over the world,” he said.

“Challenges are there but with collaborations with private hotels and transport, we can create packages and compete with other countries.

“We have 25,850 staff in the medical field. This will increase by 10 to 15 per cent.”

The DHA will work with the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, Department of Economic Development, Dubai Healthcare City and the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs to issue tourist packages and visas.