Growth in the knowledge economy

Our medical tourism industry will have great effect on the larger and broader economy

The Dubai Healthcare City, on the green line of the Dubai Metro train. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
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It is encouraging that Dubai is on track to achieve its target of attracting half a million medical tourists this year. The emirate is now a full five years ahead of schedule for the number of patients it treats from overseas, as well as from within the UAE. In the first half of this year alone, 16 hospitals provided treatment for 256,097 medical tourists.

Globally, this is an expanding field that has been a boon to the economies of countries as diverse as Thailand and the United States. Local growth in this sector is important because it bolsters our national strategy to strengthen our knowledge economy. But the benefits also extend far beyond hospital beds and the provision of critical care.

This recent growth reflects favourably on the work that Dubai has done to make sure the medical tourism sector continues to run safely. These regulations are a critical safeguard against the prospect of botched plastic surgery performed by fraudsters in homes or in hotel rooms. Unlike some destinations in Asia and South America, which are known for cheap medical treatments, the UAE is protecting its reputation as a world-class and safe destination for medical procedures.

It is imperative and highly useful to push the sector further. For one, medical care is a great source of job creation for Emiratis in professional fields – not just as doctors and nurses, but also as highly skilled experts in radiology, pharmacology and so on.

Next, with many medical tourists being covered by insurance – including the costs for return flights, hotel expenses and treatment in the case of complications – it is important to appreciate how the growth of this sector impacts our overall economy. These expenditures filter into the broader ecosystem. Moreover, spending by patients during their stay extends beyond clinic lobbies. Indeed, as with tourism generally, spending by visitors broadens the range of goods and services available to residents, while lowering costs.

Finally, as the industry grows, our construction companies become increasingly expert in the specialised field of hospital and clinic building and fit-outs. This is an expertise we can take beyond our borders to a region increasingly budgeting for more such infrastructure. o while the medical sector’s benefits might at first seem limited to the restoration of health, its salubrious effects actually are much broader.