Healthy living will bring medical costs down in UAE

A trip to the doctor in the UAE costs plenty. A healthy life-style can bring down those expenses.

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We all get sick, and sometimes the only way to recover is a trip to hospital for treatment. But a trip to the doctor, which may feel like a bargain for many customers in the UAE (and is actually free for Emiratis) costs plenty. As The National has been reporting, demands placed on the health care system are skyrocketing, and some insurers are now pondering the prospect of cutting back services to balance their books.

Outpatient medical costs have increased annually by 26 per cent since 2007, according to the insurer, Daman. In an attempt to control medical inflation, the Government announced last week a plan to cut the prices of more than 6,600 medicines by up to 40 per cent. Cutting drug prices will hopefully lead to a drop in health care costs. Even some manufacturers have said the cuts are manageable.

But this week Daman also revealed that 50 medicines are responsible for roughly 40 per cent of total pharmaceutical costs. And the bulk of the top 10 are meant to treat conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure - maladies more associated with poor lifestyle and dietary choices than bad luck or genetics. Which brings us to a point we've made numerous times in this space: health care costs will always be a large percentage of any government's budget. But when people take better care of themselves expenditures can be diverted to helping them live longer.

Governments have a roll to play in encouraging healthy choices. Consider Finland. In the 1960s, Finns led industrialised nations in heart disease mortality. But the Government initiated policy changes that encouraged a healthy lifestyle, setting long- and short-term goals to incorporate health promotion in social and economic agendas. The so-called North Karelia Project encouraged people to reduce their salt and fat intake, and get more exercise. Walking paths were built so Finns could exercise in any weather. Television spots were aired. And, as a result, the country succeeded in changing health-related attitudes and choices of the population, lowering rates of heart disease in the process.

Finland offers a lesson for the UAE. As that country has proven, not only do healthier people live longer, they cost less. A national strategy here that encourages better lifestyle choices will, over time, help bring health care costs back down to Earth.