Abu Dhabi's healthcare system emerged from pandemic stronger, report says

The Covid-19 Response Report says quality healthcare in Abu Dhabi is making the emirate a medical tourism destination

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Heavy investments in healthcare, rapid response from the authorities and high levels of testing and vaccination enabled the UAE to deal with Covid-19, a report says.

Early response and prevention strategies helped the country to cope with the pandemic in the past two years, according to the Covid-19 Response Report produced by Oxford Business Group with Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (Seha).

“Abu Dhabi and the wider UAE have had a very strong approach to managing the Covid-19 pandemic,” Tarek Fathey, Seha’s group chief executive, said in the report.

The pandemic highlighted the strength and potential of Abu Dhabi’s healthcare infrastructure, and helped to further establish the emirate as a destination for medical tourism
Tarek Fathey, Seha’s group chief executive officer

“At the height of the pandemic, the agency dedicated multiple facilities, drive-through testing sites and isolation centres to Covid-19 patients, expanding the number of hospital beds to accommodate the rising volume of inpatients.

“Seha has also played a vital role in the country’s testing and vaccination drives, two factors that are key to managing the health crisis.”

He said the company had scaled-up telemedicine facilities, which was “key” to delivering services when lockdown measures were brought in during the early phase of the pandemic.

The report highlights the rapid response of the UAE authorities to the emergence of Sars-CoV-2, with measures such as mall and school closures, night-time curfews and the introduction of the Al Hosn track and trace app limiting case numbers.

Seha created field hospitals, assigned facilities for people who had tested positive, set up vaccination centres and added beds to increase healthcare capacity.

Jana Treeck, Middle East managing director of Oxford Business Group, said investments in developing “a modern and effective public health system and medical infrastructure” allowed Abu Dhabi to respond.

The UAE has been a world leader in Covid-19 vaccination, holding clinical trials, manufacturing vaccines in Abu Dhabi through a partnership between G42 Healthcare and Sinopharm, and achieving the highest vaccination rate of any country.

Adjusted for population size, the UAE had the highest rate of Covid-19 tests in the world, the report notes, and a very low number of deaths for a given number of positive tests.

According to the National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority, the UAE has had 862,514 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 2,273 deaths as of February 9.

An Omicron-fuelled surge was recorded in January, but case numbers have fallen for several successive weeks and deaths are declining too.

On top of the medical response, the report highlights policy initiatives such as tax reimbursements, financial guarantees and lease rebates that supported the economy and accelerated business recovery.

Pandemic accelerated digital transformation of the healthcare sector

The pandemic also accelerated the digital transformation of the UAE’s healthcare sector, the report suggests.

Digital transformation accelerated because of the pandemic, Ms Treeck said. New services “that will enhance outcomes and meet rising demand from both local and international patients” would emerge in Abu Dhabi, she said.

In the report, Mr Fathey said the pandemic increased the use of telemedicine, robotics and artificial intelligence, and described digital technology as having “a vital role” in ensuring high-quality patient care.

Abu Dhabi fast becoming a medical tourism destination

The study says Abu Dhabi is becoming an important destination for health tourism, and more UAE residents are opting for healthcare in the Emirates rather than returning to their home country for treatment.

“In addition to increasing demand for telehealth services, we are seeing a trend of more foreign residents seeking healthcare services in the UAE, rather than travelling to their home countries,” Mr Fathey said.

“The pandemic highlighted the strength and potential of Abu Dhabi’s healthcare infrastructure, and helped to further establish the emirate as a destination for medical tourism.”

The launch, in November 2019, of Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City Abu Dhabi “cemented the emirate’s role” in medical tourism, according to Mr Fathey, who said that Abu Dhabi was increasingly being thought of as a destination for specialist medical care.

As the sector has developed, top medical professionals from around the world have been willing to move to the UAE to work in Seha’s facilities, Mr Fathey said.

On the back of the vaccine trials, Abu Dhabi could play an increasingly important role in medical research and development, the report suggests.

Oxford Business Group, which produced the report in partnership with Seha, is a UK-headquartered private research and advisory company with offices across the globe, including in the UAE.

Field hospital built in Abu Dhabi in April 2020 — in pictures

Updated: February 10, 2022, 2:40 AM