RAS AL KHAIMAH // The days when living in a remote rural area meant a struggle for quality health care will soon be over.
Federal housing projects, better roads and more schools have led to population growth in outlying parts of RAK and Fujairah. Now health care to match is on the way. Primary healthcare units and at-home care teams will be set up in a two-year Ministry of Health plan for the two emirates.
"The strategy of the Government is to reach these citizens wherever they are," said Dr Yasser al Nuaimi, the director of the RAK Medical District. "Instead of asking them to come to the city, they are reaching out to them where they are.
"They have ties to the land and the place they were born. That's why the ministries of housing, health and education are working together to develop what were in the past labelled remote areas. They are not remote any more."
In Fujairah, the plan is to meet World Health Organisation guidelines for a medical centre for everywhere with a population of more than 6,000. "The standard time between home and the nearest medical centre should be no more that 10 minutes by car," said Dr Mohamed Abdullah, the director of the Fujairah Medical District.
Three new primary healthcare clinics will open in Dadna, Al Khlaibiya and Al Aqabiya, bringing the total to 18. They will be the first such facilities to open since 2009. The primary health centres will have laboratories and pharmacies on site and will perform immunisations and prenatal care, and provide services for chronically ill patients.
Hospitals in Masafi, Dibba, Kalba and Khor Fakkan will provide general care and the Fujairah Hospital will become a specialist hospital, said Dr Abdullah.
An Dh8.5 million catherisation lab and a thalassaemia centre will open by June. Thalassaemia is a common hereditary blood disorder in the UAE. The dialysis centre will have 18 dialysis machines in a building scheduled for completion this year.
Rural communities will also benefit from the Dh947 million Sheikh Khalifa Specialist Hospital in RAK at a crossroads between Fujairah, Umm al Qaiwain and Sharjah. The 250-bed hospital is scheduled to open in 2013 and will reduce the almost daily transfers to care centres in Dubai and Abu Dhabi from the Northern Emirates.
For continuing health care, a second home-care team has started to serve rural areas in RAK. The first team of three nurses and a doctor began in 2008 after a study found that 50 per cent of patients in hospital beds could receive home care. The team now serves 140 families.
The availability of home care was a necessity and not just good economics, Dr al Nuaimi said. "These ladies are calling us and we are reaching them," he said. "The programme itself is for the elderly but sometimes we go beyond."
Other services to remote areas will include a new premarital checkup centre in the southern town of Khadra, where patients can be tested for hereditary and sexually transmitted diseases.
Private donations have also pushed rural healthcare development. Examples include a car given by an anonymous donor to the home care team, renovations at the Showka primary healthcare centre and the Dh80m Abdullah Bin Omran Hospital, financed by the RAK businessman Rashid Abdullah Omran and named after his late father.
Construction is complete at the 80-bed general hospital, which will open within a year. It will have facilities for internal medicine, paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology, as well as an outpatient clinic and four operating theatres.
Several of RAK's 18 primary healthcare clinics will receive renovations, such as at Showka, which is also carried out through private donation. The emergency department at RAK's Saqr Hospital, one of two main government hospitals that serve the emirate, is scheduled for an upgrade to meet increased demands.
With federal money now assisting with improvements, the challenge will be to attract staff to work in rural areas, where there is often a shortage of rental accommodation, transport and private or non-Arabic-language education, Dr al Nuaimi said. The medical zones hope the wave of educated graduates from the communities will fill the gaps.
In coming years, doctors will have access to a patient's medical history under the Wareed project, a digital health information system that will automate healthcare processes between departments and keep a record of patient history. The information will be accessed from 14 government hospitals and 68 clinics in Dubai and the northern emirates.