x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Low-cost medical care planned for labourers

The Dubai Health Authority says it is in the process of bringing down the cost of treatment for low-income workers.

A nurse at Jebel Ali Hospital's Corporate Clinic in Dubai. At official clinics like this, the health authority aims to lower costs for the low paid.
A nurse at Jebel Ali Hospital's Corporate Clinic in Dubai. At official clinics like this, the health authority aims to lower costs for the low paid.

DUBAI // The Dubai Health Authority (DHA) says it is in the process of bringing down the cost of treatment for low-income workers, with a four-year goal of offering all residents free access to basic healthcare, regardless of their status or salary. "We are trying to get the cost of a visit down to Dh15," said Dr Colin Feek, the chief of quality and population health at the DHA.

"We are trying to ensure there are clinics operating in all labour camps, so there is better access. The aim is to provide well-regulated clinics and low cost of access. We want to make sure that everyone has access to affordable and well-regulated healthcare." Without health insurance or corporate rates, a labourer would pay between Dh100 (US$27) and Dh400 to see a doctor in a private clinic. An illegal practitioner may charge only Dh10.

"Where it is cheap, only there will I ever go," said Bilal Khan, a welder, who lives in Sonapur area. "I don't want to know whether he is a good doctor or a bad one. I have to pay out of my pocket, and if I end up paying all my money to the doctor, how am I going to feed myself?" Mr Khan said he recently spent Dh400 of his Dh600-per-month salary on medical expenses. After he developed body ache and a fever, he continued working so he could earn enough to visit a doctor since he is paid a daily wage.

Mr Khan missed five days of work following his doctor visit. He picked a clinic that charged him Dh10 but he ended up paying for medication and follow-ups that cost him more than 65 per cent of his salary. "It is a loss whichever way you look at it," he said. "If I am absent from work, I lose money. If I go to the doctor, I also lose money." A number of labourers visit unregistered clinics in Sharjah and Deira's main market, where they are sometimes charged between Dh50 and Dh100, depending on the severity of their condition.

Ajay Ram earns Dh30 a day at a construction site, and up to Dh750 a month. He spent Dh240 per visit at a clinic in Sharjah. He was given an injection and 20 tablets to combat symptoms from an allergic reaction to cement dust. His symptoms ranged from severe swelling and itching to fever. He spent an additional Dh70 per visit for doctor's fees and medication. "Wherever the dust entered, I was swollen," he said. "Even in my mouth. I took all the tablets and nothing happened. After the injection I felt a bit better but it came back again and I had to go back."

Mr Ram went to the clinic after it was recommended by a fellow worker who told him it was cheaper than going to a registered hospital.  "This is very expensive for me but the doctor's name was written on the board outside his office so we thought he was a real doctor. I stood in queue for a long time with other labourers. We are not sure where else to go." *The National