World Health Day targets global care inequalities

Treatment for the elderly and mandatory health insurance will help UAE close the gaps, expert says

The theme for World Health Day 2024 is 'My health, my right’, with improved care for the elderly a goal in the UAE. Getty Images
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Specialised care for the elderly and mandatory insurance for all can narrow the gap in health services experienced in some parts of the UAE, as World Health Day addresses global health inequalities.

Half the world’s population is still unable to access essential health services – meaning some 4.5 billion people were left without vital care in 2021, the World Health Organisation said.

The theme for World Health Day 2024 is 'My health, my right’, and it calls on nations to enact laws that ensure access to health services.

In the UAE, we have reached some amazing milestones in terms of caring for the geriatric population
Dr Asma Mahmoud Fikri, health strategy expert

While the UAE has one of the region’s youngest and most dynamic populations – with an average age of 33 and 64 per cent of inhabitants aged 22-54 – that is set to change.

As more people are living longer, better services are needed in geriatric care, health administrators said.

“Our mindset should embrace the creation of comprehensive elderly care services or Geriatric Medical Care, ideally covered by insurance or government funds and pension schemes,” said Prof Abdel Rahman Omer, group medical director at Burjeel Holdings.

“The expansion of family medicine services, including home visits as a right for all senior citizens, deserves widespread support.

“Key aspects include community care settings, hospital care and the development of geriatric medicine services, alongside public awareness campaigns and engagement with civil society services.”

Chronic disease

Chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension and dementia require specialised care beyond the scope of general health services.

Investing in preventive measures now, with a supportive care structure suited to an older population, can ensure wider access to services for the elderly when there is greater future demand.

“Optimising care to meet the expectations of a country like the UAE, which invests in its people and attracts a growing population, including retirees, necessitates significant improvements in this area,” said Prof Omer.

Several campaigns have been launched by the Ministry of Health and Prevention to support the elderly population in the UAE, where less than 2 per cent are older than 65.

An age-related database has been introduced to monitor life expectancy and develop health services accordingly.

Mobile clinics have been expanded by Emirates Health Services to cover remote areas of Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah, providing medical care, rehabilitation, natural remedies, preventive measures, dental, optical, dermatological and diabetes treatments.

Home care services are offered to all UAE citizens in Abu Dhabi, while the Abu Dhabi Rehabilitation Centre admits senior citizens who have no one to take care of them.

Social services

Social services at the centre include diagnosis, consultation, physical therapy, speech therapy, psychotherapy, exercise therapy, water cure, work therapy, family counselling and reintegration into society.

In Dubai, home care is provided to all elderly Emiratis and expats via a comprehensive geriatric assessment and nursing care by Dubai Health Authority, and in Sharjah a home care service involves accompanying people into hospitals and nursing them back to health.

Changes to mandatory health insurance for all in the UAE, due to come into force from January 1, will also help close the gap in services.

A nationwide health insurance standard is a step forward for private-sector workers in the Northern Emirates, where employers were not previously mandated by law to provide cover.

“For anyone to really talk about inequity or inequality, we have to talk about universal health coverage,” said Dr Asma Mahmoud Fikri, a health strategy expert on the National Experts Programme Alumni for the Health and Wellbeing sector.

“How primary health care is developed as a system in any country will have a huge impact on how health is accessible and equitable to everyone.

“Even before any changes to insurance, emergency cases were accepted and treated at government hospitals.

“However, in terms of any long-term care for extra medical issues, insurance is going to significantly improve the conditions for these people.”

The World Health Day theme for this year was chosen to champion the right of everyone and everywhere to have access to quality medical services.

That includes education and information, as well as safe drinking water, clean air, good nutrition, quality housing, decent working and environmental conditions, and freedom from discrimination.

“There will always be gaps but we are progressing and developing,” said Dr Fikri, who wrote the UAE’s primary health care case report and assessed the national pandemic response.

“In the UAE, we have reached some amazing milestones in terms of caring for the geriatric population.

“If a health system will try to address the gaps rather than brush them under the carpet, then yes, we can provide equitable health care for everyone.”

Updated: April 07, 2024, 3:00 AM