The UAE's healthcare sector: An emerging hotspot for investors


The healthcare sector in the United Arab Emirates has witnessed a lot of changes and reforms in recent years. The country now comprises a healthcare city and some of the most prominent hospitals and clinics. Laila Al Jassmi, Founder & CEO, Health Beyond Borders (HBB), Dubai and former CEO of Health Policy & Strategy of Dubai Health Authority (DHA) is one of the leading contributors to this transformation. In this exclusive interview, Laila talks about the development of the healthcare industry in the UAE shedding light on many initiatives including Dubai medical tourism.



How has the healthcare industry evolved in the UAE over the last decade?

The UAE is composed of a multinational population with varying educational backgrounds, religious beliefs, and cultural practices. This poses a challenge for the government to introduce a system that could cater for its healthcare needs. Therefore, there is a concerted effort from both the public and private sectors to address these needs. The healthcare market here continues to evolve, the UAE government spent an estimated 2.9% of GDP on healthcare. It is also making good investments in this sector in order to attract GCC nationals and expatriates who have traditionally traveled abroad for serious medical care. Dubai has developed Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC), a free zone that offers international advanced health providers ranges from hospitals, specialized centers and clinics as well as an academic medical training center. Moreover, Abu Dhabi has been able to affiliate its public hospitals with renowned international healthcare provides. The establishment of Abu Dhabi Cleveland Clinic is considered as a milestone in the healthcare development in the UAE. Additionally, we should not forget the significant role of the private sector healthcare investment in the growth and development of the country’s healthcare sector.



What is attracting investors to Dubai’s healthcare sector?

Dubai has a market- friendly business environment as well as a regulatory stability and transparency. This contributes to an efficient workplace. Dubai being an attractive city for healthcare professionals attracts healthcare investors into the Emirate. Moreover, the introduction of a mandatory health insurance policy in Dubai will increase the utilization at public and private facilities which will attract investments accordingly. Finally, the government’s support for the health sector through the establishment of Dubai Healthcare City as a free zone to attract investment and at the same time promote medical tourism is also a triggering aspect.



How is Health Beyond Borders contributing to the industry’s success?

Health Beyond Borders (HBB) is a bespoke Dubai based healthcare advisory firm focused on the following services: Healthcare Strategy and Research, Health Investment Facilitation, Healthcare Marketing and Business Development in the UAE, Medical Tourism Consulting and Facilitation, Training and Workshops. HBB can help new businesses navigate through the challenges and leverage the opportunities and bring considerable economic benefits in a sustainable and effective manner. Therefore, it contributes to the development of the healthcare sector in the UAE by attracting healthcare investments and facilitating medical tourism into the country.



How do you plan to address the challenges in healthcare demand and grow this sector further?

As the health sector grows in the UAE in general, there will always be many challenges facing it, including healthcare manpower. The shortage in skilled healthcare professionals will be one of the main challenges. Therefore, the government started to plan and put together a strategy to build its local capacity in this area over the coming years. However, having been able to attract a renowned healthcare provider into the UAE will be an added value to attract healthcare professionals to come and work in the country. Other challenges will be related to the new investments in technology and data management

as well as e-health services and health information technologies such as the use of mobile health, telemedicine and electronic health records.



You have led the Dubai medical tourism initiative with an aim to place Dubai in the world health tourism map. Could you give us insights into medical tourism?

Dubai, being a world class hub for trade and tourism in the region would like to build on these strengths in the medical field as well. Based on a recent report, the value of medical tourism is expected to rise to AED 6.1 billion in the coming five years. Arabian Gulf citizens spend an estimated Dh91.8 billion a year for treatment abroad with medical tourism picking up in countries such as India, Thailand and Singapore. Dubai, given its tourism infrastructure and its place on the map can target to take a slice of this pie by effectively marketing medical tourism in the Emirate. Therefore, the government is supporting the initiative strongly and has requested all parties to give their full cooperation. The health authority has already identified the specific areas to attract medical tourists into Dubai and allow private healthcare providers to play a great role in the marketing. The health authority is also facilitating investments into the healthcare, which is one of the ways to attract high standards of healthcare providers into the emirate.



What are some of the solutions that DHCC is offering for travelers in line with the medical tourism initiative?

DHCC has been able to attract reputable international healthcare providers to operate in the Emirate in order to attract medical tourists. It has also established a unified health regulatory system to attract investments and facilitate the licensing process for healthcare professionals or facilities.



After passionately participating in developing the healthcare environment in Dubai, what were some of the bottlenecks you had to deal with?

As a woman, I faced few challenges with regards to dealing with dual roles and responsibilities being both a mother and an entrepreneur. Thus, finding the right balance between family and work was a real challenge. Yet, the family support I got, especially from my husband was greatly appreciated, and I was making sure to spend quality time with my family. Another challenge I had to deal with was the lack of opportunities provided to build skills in managing complexity, and this was due to cultural, religious and gender issues. However, I had overcome it by pursuing my higher education and building my knowledge and skills. I now have strong work ethics and the ability to empower others by giving them responsibility with the appropriate authority to execute the work efficiently.



What are the reforms needed to further develop the healthcare industry in the UAE?

The UAE has reinforced its obligation to improve the healthcare access and service on all levels of the country’s healthcare system as the reforms only took place in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. However, this reform still needs to achieve its target when it comes to mandatory health insurance. The UAE still has to introduce health insurance at the federal level since now only Abu Dhabi has a health insurance scheme being introduced for its nationals and residents through DAMAN, and Dubai through ENAYA and SAADA.

Moreover, the uniformity of a health regulation system in the country when it comes to licensing a healthcare professional has to be considered across the UAE.


How do you see this sector moving forward in the next few years?

The UAE has positioned itself as an attractive investment prospective for foreign health care companies looking to do business in the UAE. Being politically stable and having a model of intellectual property protection has made the enforcement of its stringent patent protection laws, trademarks, and copyrights effective. This is by creating an attractive investment environment for companies providing pioneering treatments and medical technologies to be present in the UAE. The government’s support and commitment to build the UAE as a destination for medical tourism allow the health authorities to collaborate with the private sector on this and make it a great success.


What is your message to entrepreneurs aspiring to become a success story?                    

Believe in yourself and if you fail, never give up because it will be your first step towards learning. The next opportunity is there waiting for you. Build a strong and smarter team around you so you can be innovative. Never stop dreaming, always believe that your dream will come true. Entrepreneurship is a journey, so love what you do, enjoy your life, family, and friends. Surround yourself with positive people who believe in you as well as your inspired vision.



About Laila Al Jassmi

Laila Al Jassmi is the Founder and CEO of Health Beyond Borders, Dubai. She is also the former CEO of Health Policy & Strategy of Dubai Health Authority. In her previous role spanning over 21 years in DHA, she had led efforts on strategic planning and transformation of Dubai’s health sector, health insurance reform, health funding strategy, public health strategy, health awareness and prevention programs, initial efforts to support and encourage e-health, healthcare statistics and health information systems, healthcare planning which includes Dubai Clinical Services Capacity Plan 2020, promoting and facilitating health investments, collecting and publishing annual health statistics, health research and analytics which includes the first ever Dubai Household Health Survey 2010. Laila also championed the Health Authority’s efforts on medical tourism to Dubai and health insurance reform, being closely involved and leading the efforts on these projects for the emirate. Laila has been at the forefront of health sector reform and health information evolution in the UAE, and is a leading speaker on global and regional opportunities and challenges in healthcare demand and transformation, health funding, health strategy and research and health tourism. 


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