x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Builder of malls and ski slopes leaps into UAE health care

Majid Al Futtaim, the region's biggest mall builder, is swapping indoor ski slopes for endoscopes in a bid to attract medical tourists to the UAE.

Ahmed Ismail, the chief executive of Majid Al Futtaim Ventures, says “there are varying degrees of quality when it comes to healthcare provision” in the UAE. Charles Crowell for The National
Ahmed Ismail, the chief executive of Majid Al Futtaim Ventures, says “there are varying degrees of quality when it comes to healthcare provision” in the UAE. Charles Crowell for The National

The region's biggest mall builder is swapping indoor ski slopes for endoscopes in a bid to attract medical tourists to the UAE.

Majid Al Futtaim (MAF), the developer behind Mall of the Emirates and Ski Dubai, plans to use its shopping centres as a springboard into the healthcare business.

It is joining a stampede of investment by health providers across the Arabian Gulf offering an increasingly sophisticated suite of procedures from keyhole cardiac surgery to tummy tucks.

"We see very strong fundamentals in terms of the supply gap in primary healthcare provisioning," said Ahmed Ismail, the chief executive of Majid Al Futtaim Ventures. "There is also a quality gap that is evident to anyone who has lived here for a long period of time.

"There are varying degrees of quality when it comes to healthcare provision in this country. You can see that as a challenge but you can also see it as an opportunity now that the government is making a big push into medical tourism."

MAF's entry into the market comes as hospitals enjoy rising revenues, with growing demand for medical services helped by a rapidly expanding population across the Emirates.

The high incidence of diabetes and cardiovascular disease in the UAE and wider Gulf region is also stoking demand and attracting investment from local and international groups eyeing growth markets at a turbulent time for the global economy.

NMC Health, a UAE company that lists its shares in London, grew its third quarter healthcare sales by 17.5 per cent to US$61.2 million (Dh224.8m) compared with a year earlier. It is developing new facilities at Mussafah in Abu Dhabi and Dubai Investment Park.

Cleveland Clinic, one of the best-known names in the health industry, plans to recruit hundreds of new doctors, nurses and support staff for a new hospital in Sowwah Island next year.

Sharjah is also ramping up investment in the sector with its planned Healthcare City.

Demand for plastic surgery is also growing as rising income levels and public sector pay increases across the region help to fund cosmetic procedures such as hair removal, liposuction and botox injections.

"We received a steady flow of enquiries from the Middle East and this prompted us to open a clinic," said Dr Allen Rezai, a Harley Street plastic surgeon and founder of Elite Cosmetic Surgery Group, which last week opened its first clinic in the UAE at Dubai Healthcare City.

MAF has teamed up with Fortis Healthcare to open its first day care clinic to be located in Deira City Centre in the first half of next year. The clinic will include an endoscopy room, day care beds and radiology and pathology facilities.

"We have access to prime real estate in strong catchment areas with very high footfall and we are continuously looking for ways to best utilise that real estate," added Mr Ismail

scronin@thenational.ae