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Find out why medical tourism is big business in Dubai

Find out why medical tourism is big business in Dubai
By Louise Miner  & Noni Edwards

Medical tourism is a booming global industry, estimates on market size vary but the Patients Without Borders publishing group puts its value at around €60 to €80 billion worldwide, each year, with 20 to 24 million patients travelling for medical treatments annually.

Around the world, aging populations, rising healthcare costs, and pressures on the insurance industry have created opportunities for destinations like Dubai, that have been able to invest rapidly in their healthcare infrastructure and capitalise on the sharp increase in demand for health tourism.

Encouraging international institutions

Dr Marwan Mohamed Al Mulla, CEO, Health Regulation Sector, Dubai Health Authority said, “Recently a new law has come into effect which encourages and allows international institutions to have their own, 100 percent ownership

The Dubai Health Authority has had a medical tourism strategy in place since 2014 with the aim of developing and supporting its healthcare sector and steadily increasing its contribution towards Dubai's gross domestic product.

Focusing on an inbound patient’s airport-to-airport needs has helped providers capitalise too.

Dr Basel Nasrallah, Medical Director, Armada said, “We in our facility, for example, get about 5 percent more patients from abroad. Patients are coming from all around the world. We are receiving patients from Russia, mainly Europe, Italy, Spain, UK, and North America from Africa, from South Asia

Why have health checks in Dubai?

Interestingly, many of those countries are known for the strength of their own medical tourism offerings, but Dubai is still an attractive option for patients who are looking to combine their treatments with other pursuits.

Alexander Edwards, Surgical Patient, from the UK said, “Well there were multiple aspects I looked at prior to coming obviously looking at the time it takes, for the recovery period. I had all the research done before I came and found some fantastic reviews, very positive feedback from other friends and family that had procedures done in the country, so I decided to combine the holiday, visit my parents and have just this minor surgery done."

"It’s convenient and it’s a day surgery so you’re done with whatever kind of treatment that you need, whether it’s as an inpatient or outpatient, then you go back to your holiday so you have no time lost," said Barbara Biwott, Obstetric Patient, from Kenya.

Planning the trip

The DHA’s patient portal helps in planning every aspect of a trip

Dr Marwan Mohamed Al Mulla, CEO, Health Regulation Sector, Dubai Health Authority said, “They can book their flight, book their hotels and even their arrangements for after the treatment, recuperate in Dubai, stay until they are well and then when the time is suitable they can go back home.”

The boom in health tourism was a driving factor for Kings College Hospital London when choosing where to locate their first international establishment.

Christian Schuhmacher, CEO, Kings College Hospital, London, Dubai said, “Medical tourism is very important for us. Dubai is an excellent destination, as we know we see tourism growing year on year. We see other markets being explored from the Dubai side so clearly Dubai is a very very attractive place also for people who seek medical treatment and we're at the forefront of that together with Dubai health authority.”


They’ve just opened their doors to patients this year and have built their service offerings around the needs of those travelling for treatment, and returning home to recover.

Schuhmacher added, “Once you're home we have what is called the patient portal so through any advice, be that your laptop, be that your mobile phone that we all are carrying around all the time, you can always access your patient records, your patient file, your images, your medication, and whatnot. Obviously, it's also very very helpful if you're traveling or if you maybe even move to another country you always have the master of your own data basically.”

The Dubai Health Authority encourages secure information sharing amongst its network of 3,000 facilities through its Smart Data Center for storage of patient records.

Diet and nutrition

The authority also works hard keeping its largely expat workforce healthy. In the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), they’re sponsoring a Health Camp offering free check-ups in areas like ophthalmology, dentistry, sports medicine, and general medicine.

Oliver Ketterwell, a city worker in Dubai from England, said, “We work long hours in the DIFC so we sometimes forget about our health and it’s good to take advantage of this free health check up and see if there are any areas of improvement that I can do.”

“The ladies here were helping me to, exactly how to measure the food; what time to take the protein, the vegetable, grains, and how to mix them. It was very useful. We’re working long hours in the office, eating food from outside that is not healthy food,” said Rasha Afifi, a city worker in Dubai from Sudan.

Dubai is expecting to earn around €630 million from medical tourism by 2020, with a growth rate of 13 percent each year.

To support the sector they are also focusing on increasing the manufacture of pharmaceutical and medical equipment as part of Dubai 2030 industrial strategy.