Why Arab Health is more than a conference

The event has become a magnet for cutting-edge medicine and weaves together technology, investment and innovation

An MRI scanner made by GE Healthcare at the Arab Health conference this week in Dubai. The device uses 80 per cent less helium – a non-renewable resource – than other models. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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When Abu Dhabi’s first hospital was set up in 1960, it would have been almost impossible for its staff and patients to imagine the journey the country would take to becoming a regional health superpower.

The Oasis Hospital in Al Ain – initially a four-room clinic in a building donated by UAE Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed – was set up by US doctors Pat and Marian Kennedy. It would later be renamed the Kanad Hospital after the local pronunciation of the couple’s surname.

They tended to villagers and isolated communities whose lives had been blighted by a lack of health care. Blindness and glaucoma from blowing sand were common, and it was estimated that up to half of all Emirati infants and a third of mothers died during childbirth, or related complications.

In just a few decades, the UAE has left that hardship far behind to become a hub for cutting-edge medicine and a place where doctors, investors and governments come together to find 21st-century solutions to a new set of health challenges.

As part of that journey, more than 3,000 exhibitors from 70 countries are taking part in the annual Arab Health conference in Dubai this week. It is has become a flagship event for the heath sector – and one that offers plenty of reasons to be optimistic.

HIV, an illness that disproportionately affects the developing world, could become a thing of the past, with the chances of finding a cure being “quite high”, Prof Sharon Lewin, director of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne, told the fair.

Other illnesses could yield to innovations in artificial intelligence, audiences heard. On Monday, the same day that the Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence celebrated its first cohort of graduates, the chief executive of UAE firm G42 Healthcare Ashish Koshy described how the health sector “learnt from the pandemic the value of data-driven decisions”.

More than 3,000 exhibitors from 70 countries are taking part in the annual conference in Dubai this week

Such technology is now of life-or-death importance. As Mr Koshy spoke, the Red Cross released a report warning that a second pandemic could be just around the corner, adding ominously that many governments were “dangerously unprepared”.

Pandemics pose one threat, but climate change and environmental degradation pose another. Research published in the journal Nature Climate Change last August found that 218 out of 375 infectious diseases confronted by humanity – about 58 per cent – have been at some point aggravated by climate change.

Hady El Khoury of GE Healthcare told Arab Health that sustainable practices were the only realistic course open to healthcare providers. “Having a clean environment and healthy world go hand in hand,” he said.

Arab Health has become the main forum to showcase sustainable health care and green medical technologies, such as GE Healthcare’s MRI scanner, which uses 80 per cent less helium – a non-renewable resource – than other models.

Such innovations are also part of the reason why Arab Health has proved to be such a financial success – Dh2.8 billion ($762.3 million) of deals were completed at last year's event.

Speaking at the opening of the event earlier this week, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, said the UAE’s goal is to “to create a vibrant global healthcare hub that serves not only the needs of the people of our nation but also caters to the growing requirements of our vast region”.

Serving the region, and humanity, is another step on the journey from the UAE’s earliest hospitals to a point where the country has become a magnet for pioneering health care. This kind of progress demonstrates the dividends to be reaped from judicious and consistent investment in a nation’s health infrastructure, education and training.

Published: February 01, 2023, 3:00 AM
Updated: February 10, 2023, 7:26 AM