Dubai Healthcare City faces challenge

Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC) is set to become an international hub for medical tourism said Dr Ayesha Abdullah of the DHCC.

DHCC is a conglomerate of medical teaching institutions, private hospitals and clinics, medical spas and rehabilitation centres. With residential villas, apartments, and five-star hotels surrounding an artificial lake, it is designed to promote medical tourism.

With the work on Phase 1 almost complete and operational, Phase 2 projects are coming online. A major project under Phase 2 is The Wellness Community. This aims to position itself as the premier location for prevention, rejuvenation, integrative medicine, sports medicine and healthy living services in the region. Phase 1 will be the centre for cutting edge diagnosis and conventional clinical treatment. Phase 2 will focus on preventative and alternative medicine. Other developments planned in Phase 2 include three hotels and two wellness resorts. Fifty clinical villas will be built to support the delivery of outpatient day surgery and other specialised healthcare services, while six hospitals of approximately 500 beds, will focus on rehabilitation and women’s specialties

DHCC’s Phase 1 houses 100 clinics and over 70 healthcare businesses, two hospitals, and a multi-specialty outpatient. The hospitals/centres in Phase 1 include Mayo Clinic, Moorfields Eye Hospital, Dr Suleiman Al Habib Medical Centre, the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery Hospital, the German Medical Centre, Dubai Medical Suites and City Hospital.

Soon, the Harvard Medical School Dubai Centre (HMSDC), University Hospital, and the Dubai Bone & Joint Centre will relocate to DHCC for provision of healthcare in Phase 1. The Boston University Dental Health Centre is currently operational from a temporary location within DHCC and is due to have its own building within the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Academic Medical Centre.

Despite massive promotion of DHCC, numbers on the ground are low. The international facilities report tens rather than hundreds of health tourists, almost all from the Middle East, not America nor Europe. A major problem that prices are double those on offer in Southeast Asia. While a few people will pay for local high quality, world recession means that if you can get a cardiac bypass for $44,000 in the UAE, but in Singapore and Thailand, the same surgery costs around $18,500 and $11,000 respectively, Asia will be your destination.

Guy Ellena, director of health and education at the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a World Bank agency, believes the UAE is too expensive: “There is not enough of a comparative advantage to attract people from other parts of the world. Nearly every government believes that medical tourism will make a change to their country, but it will follow the rules of the market – cost.”

The American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery Hospital (AACSH) anticipates 20 percent of its revenue will come through medical travel. Since opening in June, AACSH has seen only 460 patients: 60 percent from the UAE, 30 percent from the GCC with the remaining 10 percent from North Africa and Europe.

DHCC centres seek to use the new facilities and specialisation to justify high prices, despite the world economy. Dubai ‘s tourism authority continually reiterates the ludicrous claim that the UAE will receive 11.2 million medical tourists by 2010, largely through DHCC. But in the UAE most medical tourism is outbound so it will be an uphill struggle to even turn the flow around.