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Healthcare tourism gives Dubai a shot in the arm

The Dubai Health Authority is making strides to give tourists better and quicker medical access DHA Media
The Dubai Health Authority is making strides to give tourists better and quicker medical access
  • International patients worth $272m in 2022
  • City’s healthcare sector commits to increasing workforce
  • Collaborations with global companies adds expertise

Medical tourism brought nearly AED1 billion ($272 million) to Dubai last year, up by more than a quarter, as the emirate aims to build its reputation as a destination for international patients. 

Dubai welcomed 674,000 medical tourists in 2022, up from 630,000 the previous year, with 39 percent arriving from Asian countries, 22 percent from Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, and 21 percent from Arab and GCC countries.

The Dubai Health Authority (DHA) says dermatology (31 percent) dentistry (24 percent) and gynaecology (18 percent) were the most sought after treatments. Orthopaedics, plastic surgery, ophthalmology, fertility treatments, and hospitalisation and recovery were also popular.

“Further growth in the medical tourism industry in Dubai will require continued investment in the healthcare sector, attracting more international healthcare institutions, and increasing collaboration between public and private sectors to provide more specialised treatments and innovative medical solutions,” said Jan Schmitz-Hubsch, partner with Strategy&, and the leader of the healthcare practice in the Middle East.

In February DHA launched its Dubai In One Day package which allows a tourist to complete a comprehensive medical screening within two to six hours and have the results in 24 to 48 hours.

Packages are mainly tailored for the 25-to-50 age group. They are currently available for general health screening or dental and ophthalmology, but the DHA plans to add more choice to attract more tourists.

The city’s healthcare authority is also committed to expanding its workforce and facilities with projections for 2023 of a 10-15 percent increase in professionals and 3-6 percent for facilities.

Official figures show that the emirate has 4,482 medical centres across the private sector, up 45 percent since 2017, while the number of licensed medical professionals exceeded 55,200 in 2022.

Private health facilities include 56 hospitals, 57 day-care surgery centres, 59 diagnostic centres, nine fertility centres, six dialysis centres, three cord blood and stem cell centres, a gastrointestinal endoscopy centre, 49 dental laboratories, 57 facilities for traditional, complementary and alternative medicine and 410 optical centres.

Awadh Seghayer Al Ketbi, director general of the DHA, said the emirate's location, infrastructure and amenities make it a global healthcare tourism hub. 

However, Schmitz-Hubsch said that “challenges remain” and Dubai must continue to offer “cutting-edge facilities and advanced technologies” to attract overseas patients.

Growth plans

One company at the forefront of Dubai’s healthcare tourism industry is Aviv Clinics, a subsidiary of DP World that offers a hyperbaric oxygen programme which involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurised environment.

Craig Cook, Aviv’s new CEO, said: “We're committed to being a major contributor to the growth of medical tourism in the UAE.

"Being the first of its kind in the world and the only one in the region, we aim to become a centre of excellence for brain health and performance.”

He added that it was no surprise that medical tourism in the UAE has seen “tremendous growth”, given the investment in the sector.

Burjeel Holdings, which recently revealed plans to triple its medical tourism business by the end of the decade, has partnered with Canada-based OncoHelix to establish a laboratory in Abu Dhabi that will provide profile testing to assist oncologists and physicians in the diagnosis and treatment for patients with cancer, genetic diseases or immune disorders.

It is expected to be operational by the end of this year.

CEO John Sunil said: “Through this agreement, we hope to solidify our position as a leading provider of complex care in the UAE and increase our capabilities to serve the country’s growing medical tourism market.

"Collaborations like these will benefit the UAE as it transforms into a global leader in healthcare.”

Al Ketbi said DHA is committed to attracting investments by collaborating with prestigious international healthcare institutions to establish facilities that can meet growing treatment needs across all specialities.

Many private centres in Dubai are accredited by international bodies such as the Joint Commission International and the International Organization for Standardization, ensuring they meet quality and patient safety standards, he added.

The 10 top markets for medical tourism

1 Canada
2 Singapore
3 Japan
4 Spain
5 United Kingdom
6 Dubai
7 Costa Rica
8 Israel
9 Abu Dhabi
10 India

According to Digit Insurance (ranked on economy, healthcare costs, public image and quality of healthcare)

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