A tonic for the health system

By addressing its own health issues, the UAE can boost its medical tourism industry.

Dr Ali Al Dameh at Tawam Hospital in Al Ain, where groundbreaking lung-cancer screening technology has been launched. Antonie Robertson / The National
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Groundbreaking screening technology now available at Tawam Hospital in Al Ain is worth celebrating. By using low-dose computed tomography, or LDCT, instead of chest X-rays, doctors at the hospital can detect lung cancer even when there are no symptoms. Currently, nine out of 10 cases of lung cancer in Abu Dhabi are diagnosed only during the most advanced stages of the disease, which is the most common cause of cancer death among male Emiratis.

This technology has enormous potential to save lives and improve patients’ quality of life, and given the large number of potential cases, extending early testing across the country is the next logical step.

While using such state-of-the-art medical technology will clearly have domestic benefits, it could also boost the UAE’s aims to establish itself as a regional hub for medical care.

Much has been made of this country becoming the medical hub for the Middle East and beyond. Certainly, it is well placed in terms of location, infrastructure and facilities to claim a share of what is estimated to become a US$32 billion (Dh117.5bn) global medical tourism business by 2020. But it could be made unique.

Instead of being a one-stop shop for patients with all sorts of medical conditions, our hospitals could consider specialising in those diseases, such as lung cancer, that are particularly prevalent in this country. Other conditions that are over-represented among patients in the UAE include cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, respiratory disorders, thalassaemia and other genetic disorders.

Our hospitals should first become centres of excellence in those areas where there is the most need in this country. That will improve the health of Emiratis and residents, and reduce health care costs for the Government and insurers. At the same time, by establishing clear benchmarks of quality, this sets up the Emirates as the best place to seek treatment.