Dubai Healthcare City aims to boost the number of licences for integrative and alternative-medicine clinics, although experts warn that the sector faces a number of emerging business challenges.
The free-zone authority houses 12 clinics licensed to operate in certain integrative and alternative practices, including homeopathy, acupuncture, yoga and traditional Chinese medicine. Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC) is looking into additional specialities in which clinics could be licensed.
A Korean acupuncture clinic and a herbal clinic are set to open this year in the free zone.
Three weeks ago, Ayucare Ayurveda opened its first slimming unit and spa, called Slim Zero, in DHCC. The company is a pharmaceutical concern from southern India that has two medicine manufacturing facilities and runs 11 hospitals. This marks the first time Ayucare has expanded outside of India.
The number of insurance companies covering alternative-medicine treatment has increased since 2008, in a sign of growing acceptance of non-conventional medicine, said Ayesha Abdullah, the managing director of DHCC. She was speaking on the sidelines of a health conference in Dubai.
But Ms Abdullah warned that DHCC should be "very conservative" when licensing new specialities. Her concerns about the market are echoed in nearby countries such as Saudi Arabia, which has stricter licensing regulations for non-conventional medicine.
The kingdom has issued licences in only four areas of alternative-medicine, including acupuncture, chiropractic and naturopathy, compared with licences for 14 areas of specialisation at the DHCC, said Dr Abdullah Al Bedah, who attended the conference and is executive director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which falls under the Saudi health ministry's auspices.
"It's a growing market, but we need not to be [in] a hurry before we have the evidence in front of us," said DrAl Bedah.
"There is resistance from practitioners [of conventional medicine], resistance from pharmaceutical industries [and] lack of enough evidence-based research," Dr Al Bedah said, referring to the industry in the GCC region.
One survey conducted by DHCC in 2005 found that 28 per cent of Dubai residents used alternative medicine that year. DHCC plans to update the survey next year.
Dr Rasheed Hamza, an employee at the Dubai unit of Slim Zero, said he was in favour of the strict regulations imposed by the DHCC. That approach helps to ensure that "there is no misuse or exploitation in this field", he said.
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