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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Health care for all is the mark of a strong society

The rules and regulations of some health care providers mean some patients fall through the net - but they shouldn't

Valerian Dias with his son Aldin, whose hospital bill topped Dh1.3 million after he was born prematurely. His twin sister died after seven months in intensive care. Anna Nielsen for The National
Valerian Dias with his son Aldin, whose hospital bill topped Dh1.3 million after he was born prematurely. His twin sister died after seven months in intensive care. Anna Nielsen for The National

A good measure of any strong society has to be how it looks after its weakest, poorest members. That system could be said to have let down Jacky Pascolado, who is refusing life-saving dialysis treatments because she cannot afford them and has no health insurance; Sarangi Mendis, who is ignoring blinding headaches because she is still trying to pay off her last brain operation; and Valerian and Delma Dias, who faced a staggering Dh1.34 million bill because their twins were born prematurely and spent seven months in intensive care. While health insurance is mandatory in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the Northern Emirates have yet to catch up. Even in those emirates where health care is supposedly available to all, there are those who slip through the net – people like the Diases, who were turned away from one hospital and whose insurance company refused to pay their bill in full, or Roxanne Adviento, whose health insurance firm, when it came to paying up, claimed her baby’s premature delivery could be considered a pre-existing condition.

The health and well-being of its population cannot be treated as a luxury but a necessity. The UAE Cabinet is taking essential steps to ensure all citizens are covered and certainly, a federal law consistent across all emirates is needed to even out access to health care services. The Ministry of Finance is in the process of pursuing mandatory cover for all and plans to raise a draft law before the Federal National Council, which can only be welcomed. But it remains the responsibility of health care providers everywhere to ensure the letter of the law is upheld and beyond that, to treat individual cases with a degree of compassion and common sense.

A lack of means cannot be the reason certain members of society – and usually those who need it most – are locked out of the system. Health care and the provision of services is a flourishing business; it would be naive to suggest money is not a crucial factor in operating health insurance firms and hospitals. But where the lives of those most in need are at risk, it is surely the mark of a fair society to carry the burden where they cannot.