Korea provides solutions for many Emiratis with medical problems

South Korean hospitals enjoy a reputation for specialised treatments among UAE nationals, and word of mouth has encouraged more to make the journey. Caline Malek reports from Seoul

Muhair Al Tuneiji, left, accompanied his brother Mohammed to Seoul for treatment at St Mary’s Hospital. SeongJoon Cho for The National
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When a tumour was discovered in his colon, Mohammed Al Tuneiji never expected he would have to travel to three countries for a cure.

Mr Al Tuneiji, 45, had surgery in London to remove the tumour in 2003, then underwent chemotherapy in Singapore. And when the Abu Dhabi Government found out he needed more surgery, he was sent to Seoul St Mary’s Hospital.

“I heard from many people that Korea was clean and had great medical services, which is why I decided to come here,” the Sharjah resident said. “I didn’t think about doing this in the UAE because there is no hospital that can offer this treatment.

“My surgery is done now, but I’ve been in bed for a long time, so my muscles are very weak and I need rehabilitation. Once I start to walk properly, I will go back to Abu Dhabi.”

He was put on a fast-track to Korea in only five days.

“It’s an excellent service,” he said. “It was much quicker than I expected.”

Muhair Al Tuneiji, his 31-year-old brother, accompanied him.

“London was only appointments and in Singapore, the type of treatment didn’t suit him,” he said. “That’s what led us to come to Seoul, and we’ll be leaving within the next two months.”

He said the Government had strongly recommended South Korea out of three destinations, including the US and London.

Jalal Albarkat, 41, from Umm Al Quwain, found South Korea to be the best place for his son Muhannad, 15, who needed a bone marrow transplant because of thalassaemia.

“I heard many patients went to London to get the same treatment, but they had to wait a very long time, and there were so many complications,” Mr Albarkat said. “We’ve been here since December and we have three weeks left, but I was very satisfied with the treatment.”

Salem Almokhmari’s four-year-old daughter is in the same ward for blood cancer treatment.

“I asked other patients who were treated here before coming, and they all recommended it, so I was pleased,” said Mr Almokhmari, 48, who was accompanied by his wife and four children from Al Ain.

“We’ve been here for about eight months and the doctor said we might be able to leave soon.”

With only one mosque in Seoul, the Government has set up a prayer room and Arabic interpreters in each of the hospitals that have Emirati patients.

“I saw a lot of hospitals, but these are very professional and they take our culture and religion into consideration,” said Fahad Al Hantoobi, 26, who donated part of his liver to his 65-year-old mother at the Asan Medical Centre last week.

“They study what we need as Arabs and Muslims, and they implement it.”

His mother’s liver had been functioning at 20 per cent since 2008. “She’s also diabetic, so this was the best and only solution,” Mr Al Hantoobi said. “After a committee from the military hospital and Khalifa Hospital read the medical reports, they decided to send her here, as there was no treatment in Abu Dhabi.”