The Ministry of Health is trying to reduce the number of patients who are sent abroad for treatment by improving the level of care here, a senior official says.
Health begins at home
ABU DHABI // The Ministry of Health is trying to reduce the number of patients who are sent abroad for treatment by improving the level of care here, a senior official said. Tens of millions of dirhams are spent each year sending UAE citizens for treatment abroad. The ministry, which had a Dh23 million (US$6.2m) budget last year for such trips, said it sent 330 patients to foreign hospitals in 2007. Nasser al Budoor, the ministry's assistant undersecretary of international relations and health affairs, said it was working at decreasing the numbers by improving the quality of care available in the UAE. "The overseas health care budget is going to decrease in the coming years to match the level of development in health care," he said. "We sent 330 patients abroad last year and we have sent almost 200 this year." He cited Mafraq hospital's cardiology department and Tawam hospital's cancer treatment centre as examples of the UAE's improving health standard. While the ministry refused to disclose which procedures were funded, Sabiha al Aidross, from the overseas patient referral department, said it would only be for "cases where the treatment is not available in the UAE". Illnesses treated abroad includescancer, heart disease, renal failures, liver problems, urology, endocrinology, paediatric care and serious road accidents. She said the ministry also assists in paying for visas, transport, interpreters and hotel accommodation. Procedures available in the UAE as well as dental and cosmetic surgery are not covered. However, she added patients could petition for exceptions to be made. The ministry maintains offices in several cities that offer world-class health care. While the ministry was unwilling to release the numbers of people sent to each city, Mrs Aidross could confirm which cities were common destinations. She said that Munich in Germany was where the largest number of patients received treatment. It was followed by London, Mumbai, Bangkok, Manila, Singapore, Geneva and Washington. She said potential cases were put before a medical board, which screened the patients. A ministry doctor would then make a recommendation to the minister's office for final approval. The ministry was not able to say what proportion of applications were approved. The programme is available only to Emiratis in the northern Emirates. The Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HAAD) and Department of Health and Medical Services (DOHMS) in Dubai also send people to other countries for treatment. HAAD declined to comment but DOHMS confirmed that 947 people had been sent overseas last year. Non-nationals are not eligible for coverage and must rely on their health insurance programmes. firstname.lastname@example.org