Bernard Houchner, co-founder of Medecins Sans Frontiers, told a conference in Dubai that poor labourers should be entitled to health cover.
Call for health insurance plan for expat labourers in the UAE
DUBAI // The country should strive to provide basic health insurance to all foreign blue-collar workers, said the co-founder of the medical humanitarian organisation Medecins Sans Frontiers.
"The level of development in the UAE is fantastic," said Bernard Kouchner, former French foreign minister and a doctor.
"But not all people are rich enough to have access to health care. The beginning of the work here is to give insurance to foreign labourers."
He was speaking on the sidelines of the "Health care for all" conference at the Address Downtown Dubai yesterday.
"It is not fair to ask poor labourers to pay for health care. They are sending all their money to their families. They should have government insurance where medicines and consultancy is paid for."
Mr Kouchner, who has also been health minister and head of humanitarian action, said states should evolve their own medical systems.
"Every country should develop a special basket of care in relation to conditions, culture and population. I am not talking about aesthetic care but minimum access like vaccination, emergency and communicable diseases. These are not costly things."
Mr Kouchner is also credited with setting up Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World) in 1980.
Abu Dhabi is the only emirate that requires mandatory coverage - and 98 per cent of workers have insurance.
In March, the Dubai Health Authority promised mandatory insurance for every worker but a timeline for implementation of the plan is yet to be announced. It was originally scheduled to be introduced in the emirate in 2009.
Mr Kouchner said health care should be subsidised by the rich, as in the case of his home country.
In 2000, the World Health Organisation said France provided the best overall health care.
"Rich should pay for the poor. Step by step, the poor can pay for themselves. At the beginning, you cannot be paying for everything. They should have a contract where minimum care is possible.
"All foreign workers cannot come to hospital and expect luxurious care. Be idealistic, realistic and romantic."
A corporate insurer said there were plans in Dubai to provide cover to anyone with a work visa.
"Employers will have to buy medical insurance from companies on behalf of employees," said Abdellatif Abuqurah, chief executive of Dubai Insurance.
"The scheme will offer in-patient, out-patient coverage, medicines, lab tests, maternity and consultancy. This can be topped up later with optical and dental services and the option to be treated abroad."
He said a similar level of cover would eventually be implemented in the rest of the country.