Dubai seeks to increase medical tourism with Libyan help


In another attempt to promote medical tourism in the emirate, Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC) will open specialised centres for oncology, genetic disorders and diabetes and add facilities for rehabilitation, paediatrics and integrated medicine.

Last year, DHCC recorded a sharp growth in total patient numbers, attracting 502,000 patients in 2011. It is claimed that 15% of these patients are medical tourists compared to 10% of a total of 412,000 patients in 2010. But the 15% who are “international patients” includes expatriates and those on holiday. 85% of the UAE population, and 90% of the Dubai population are expatriate. DHCC has yet to provide statistics that identify real medical tourist numbers.

The costs of healthcare in Dubai are higher than in Asia, but DHCC claims that it is cheaper than in the USA. 90% of the medical staff are expatriates and change often, so building up any expertise that is not available in other Gulf countries is difficult. They have modern hospitals, the latest equipment and a good infrastructure, but the challenge is to offer something that persuades people from Gulf countries to go there rather than other local states or countries that have scores of new hospitals too.

Dubai’s biggest challenge is to convince its own people to stop going abroad in their thousands, often paid for by their own state health insurance. It will not attract Europeans or Americans in enough numbers to justify what has been a huge investment by the state owned DHCC.The entire population is only 2 million and according to their own official statistics is 1,523,000 males and 455,000 females, the discrepancy due to the number of expats there on a temporary basis who leave their families at home.

A delegation from the Libyan ministry of health has visited Dubai Healthcare City to raise awareness about the status of the Libyan healthcare sector and engage in dialogue with healthcare institutions in the UAE. It is unknown if Libya wants to send people to Dubai or consider building a Libyan version of DHCC.If the former, it should note what has happened in Jordan.

A year since they received the first batch of injured Libyans who went to Jordan seeking healthcare, and after providing treatment to around 55,000 patients, private hospitals are still waiting to be reimbursed. A dispute between the hospitals and Libyan authorities over medical bills that amounted to more than US $200 million is still dragging on.

The dispute involves the mechanism of auditing these bills, with numerous committees being formed and dissolved. Fawzi Hammouri, president of the Private Hospitals Association (PHA) told the local press, "We are no longer in contact with Libyan authorities, which promised to get back to us after reviewing and auditing the bills. They do not even ask for the new bills for treating their citizens who are still in our hospitals," Libya has paid some bills but still owes $130 million.

This publicity has prompted Libya to hire a Jordanian medical management company to help process financial claims filed by Jordanian hospitals that have treated around 55,000 Libyan patients over the past year. Following a meeting between Fawzi Hammouri, and Libyan Health Bureau director Ali Bin Jalil, an agreement has been made to pay all bills within a 30-day deadline after auditing is completed as stipulated in the Libyan-Jordanian Medical Cooperation Protocol. The audit process will weed out any bills that are not part of the agreement or where there is proof of loading by a hospital.

The bills are still increasing, as there are 2000 Libyans are currently receiving treatment in the kingdom's hospitals and clinics. And these bills are just for medical expenses. Local hotels that accommodated thousands of Libyans, have received $ 56 million from the Libyan authorities. Michael Nazzal, president of Jordan Hotels Association says that the Libyan authorities are cooperating and the remaining dues stand at $70 million.



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