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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 October 2018

Recruiting top doctors part of plan to turn Abu Dhabi into a medical tourism 'destination'

The Department of Culture and Tourism has outlined a vision to attract people from all over the world to seek treatment in the emirate

Jonathan Edelheit, chief executive of the Medical Tourism Association and Saif Saeed Ghobash, Undersecretary of the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi, discuss plans to increase medical tourism numbers in the emirate. Antonie Robertson/The National     
Jonathan Edelheit, chief executive of the Medical Tourism Association and Saif Saeed Ghobash, Undersecretary of the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi, discuss plans to increase medical tourism numbers in the emirate. Antonie Robertson/The National     

Attracting top quality doctors and offering a range of specialist services are part of a wide-ranging plan to put Abu Dhabi on the map as a medical tourism hot spot.

The Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT) has signed an agreement with the Medical Tourism Association (MTA), a global industry body, to encourage people from all over the world to come to the emirate for treatment - and ensure people already living here don't feel they need to seek care overseas.

Under the partnership, which was announced on Sunday, the association will target key markets such as China, Russia and other countries within the Middle East region.

The number of Russian visitors to the UAE rose by 91 per cent last year, with Chinese tourists surging by 61 per cent, after both countries were granted visa on arrival status in the UAE.

The long-term strategy is to bring the best physicians to work in the emirate on a rotating basis, providing a lure for patients to travel to the UAE capital.

Saif Saeed Ghobash, undersecretary of DCT Abu Dhabi, says bringing the MTA's annual congress - the World Medical Tourism & Global Healthcare Congress - to Abu Dhabi every year from 2019 is a vital part of the goal to bolster the UAE's medical ranks.

“The Medical Tourism Association annual event brings the who’s who of the sector to the region,” said Mr Ghobash.

“It will be an opportunity to showcase the facilities and the infrastructure of Abu Dhabi to the best physicians across the world.

“At the end of the day you don’t travel for a hospital, you travel for a physician. And that will forge a path for us to try and get these physicians to come and rotate here.”

Both public and private hospitals will be included in the plans to make Abu Dhabi a medical tourism "destination", he said.

“Medical tourism is going to encompass all hospitals, all centres,” said Mr Ghobash.

“It is an opportunity for everyone to partake and support in the execution of this successful medical tourist strategy to make us a destination.”

Jonathan Edelheit, chairman and chief executive of the MTA, said the organisation is looking at a variety of ways in which Abu Dhabi can secure more medical tourists - including using its landmark attractions as a selling point.

“We will be focusing on how Abu Dhabi can really penetrate some of these target markets and bring these medical tourists to Abu Dhabi,” said Mr Edelheit.

Efforts will include hosting hospital tours to highlight the quality of care in Abu Dhabi, plus highlight the opportunity to indulge in traditional tourism by checking out sites such as Louvre Abu Dhabi.

“The Louvre, and other attractions in Abu Dhabi, create a perfect environment because when medical tourists come to a country they bring their spouse or family members and can spend several weeks in the area.”

The travel and hospitality sector play a major role in medical tourism, according to Mr Edelheit.

“The experience isn’t just in the hospital. If you end up leaving the hospital and you have a bad experience in the hotel, if you have a bad experience in the tour,” he said

“Even small things – are hospitality staff trained to deal with patients? Do they have special floors and rooms for patients? These are all things that we will be working with DCT on.”

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Abu Dhabi is willing to “go above and beyond” to ensure the experience the medical tourist receives is unparalleled, said Mr Ghobash.

He said that people travelling to Abu Dhabi for medical treatment will be categorised, so that they receive the best care on every step of their visit.

“Your treatment will be much different to that of any other passenger, you will be taken care of in the most appropriate way.

“When you come to the airport it will be the same and at the hotel and at every other site and attraction.

“We have demonstrated that we at DCT can deliver on that. We have done so on many occasions, trough the Formula One and congresses and so on.”

Significant medical partnerships already exist in Abu Dhabi, such as with Cleveland Clinic, John Hopkins and others, said Mr Ghobash.

But MTA plans to identify other healthcare companies to start up in Abu Dhabi to focus on highly specialised care.

Abu Dhabi will focus on specialities such as cardiology, oncology, bariatric, ophthalmology, diabetes, executive screenings, said Mr Edelheit.

“This will also lift up the health care significantly for the local population,” he said.

That could be significant as some UAE nationals have in the past sought treatment abroad.

In one example, the Dubai Health Authority paid for 1,582 Emiratis to be treated abroad during 2017, compared to 1,994 in 2016.

But fewer Emiratis may seek treatment overseas in the future as a result of the partnership with MTA, said Mr Ghobash.