x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Quality health care is a universal need

Despite a continuing commitment of resources for health care, access to quality remains poor for some, lacklustre for many.

The case of Ahmed Khamis Feyrous Mohammed Al Ali, an Emirati from Umm Al Qaiwain, highlights the paradox of medicine in the UAE: despite a continuing commitment of resources, access to quality care remains poor for some, lacklustre for many.

As The National reported at the weekend, Mr Al Ali's condition was made public by his mother during a plea for help in a live radio interview. The Crown Prince of Dubai personally intervened, and Mr Al Ali will now be sent overseas for treatment. With luck he will make a full recovery from lymphoma.

We wish Mr Al Ali well, and admire the generosity of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed. But we also hope this case refocuses attention on how much remains to be done to build an enviable healthcare system.

Hardly a month goes by without a story of some routine operation gone fatally wrong. In one such case, a seven-year-old Emirati girl died while doctors tried to remove a tonsil at Al Kalba Hospital in Sharjah. At Abu Dhabi's Al Salamah Hospital, a man died of food poisoning after a doctor misdiagnosed his condition as a mere cold. In the same hospital, a woman's liposuction operation nearly killed her.

Doctors, of course, are fallible; mistakes happen in hospitals around the world. But that does not mean the UAE can't demand the best.

The Government is working to improve the delivery of health care for residents and citizens, especially in the Northern Emirates. Partnerships with world-class institutions like the Cleveland Clinic, Vienna Medical University and Johns Hopkins Medicine International are raising standards of care for everyone.

And yet many challenges remain. A shortage of staff, particularly specialists, remains a key issue. Slim health care budgets are also troubling some leaders; former FNC members said the majority of health budgets nationwide went to administrative and accreditation costs, rather than to doctors' salaries. Paying doctors higher wages might entice better professionals to practise in the UAE.

Managing and accrediting world-class hospitals is worth every penny. Spending on doctors, medicine and equipment is essential. But building a strong domestic care network requires public support. Patients will place their trust in a system only when the system earns it.