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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Mandatory health insurance essential for national development, finds UAE University report

Abu Dhabi and Dubai health and education authorities have allowed the two largest emirates to meet international standards, while the Northern Emirates lag behind

Sharjah and the Northern Emirates still do not have mandatory health insurance for all workers. Alex Atack / The National
Sharjah and the Northern Emirates still do not have mandatory health insurance for all workers. Alex Atack / The National

The United Arab Emirates has achieved quantifiable progress in healthcare, education and economic growth but there is disparity between emirates, says the latest UAE Human Development Report.

“The distinction of Dubai and Abu Dhabi with great achievements in areas of education, health care, and income in comparison with the other Emirates in the UAE is obvious,” says the report by UAE University.

In education, the report notes the importance of the Abu Dhabi Education Council and Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority in developing the education sector in the two most populous emirates.

Likewise, it notes the importance of the Health Authority — Abu Dhabi and the Dubai Health Authority in “improving the health care services to meet the international standards”.

“Such efforts, in addition to the high value of the gross domestic product in Abu Dhabi and Dubai compared to the other emirates have qualified them for a higher degree of human development, reaching advanced levels in the global rankings.”

The importance of universal health insurance for human development is highlighted in the report’s chapter on health care. It notes that while insurance is compulsory for all citizens and residents of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, this is not the case in the Northern Emirates.

One policy item that remains unchanged since the report’s data is the lack of mandatory health insurance in Sharjah and the Northern Emirates for all workers.

The successful implementation of universal coverage in Dubai and Abu Dhabi is cited as a success by health authorities in the Northern Emirates, who have long called for similar measures to be introduced.

A federal law requiring mandatory insurance for all UAE residents was drafted in 2013. Similar draft laws were considered in 2004 and 2007.

In October, the Ministry of Finance issued a statement to the The National stating that it was pursuing mandatory coverage and that a draft law for mandatory coverage would be raised with the cabinet. It did not specified an expected date of implementation.

Different authorities are to be expected within a federal system, notes the report. “The multiplicity of authorities responsible for the provision of health services in the UAE is natural, being a federal state with two levels of governance, federal and local.”

The report does not identify other policy shortcomings of the Northern Emirates or suggest what measures could be taken to enhance their respective health care and education sectors.

The report states that the emirate of Abu Dhabi has a gross national income (GNI) of US$113,640 per capita, nearly five times that of the emirate of Ras al Khaimah, which has a GNI of US$23,290.

Umm al Qaiwain comes in third nationally after Dubai and Abu Dhabi, with a recorded GNI of US$44,241.

The report states: “We notice that Umm al Qaiwain has recorded a high achievement in national income per capita qualifying it to be ranked at the top of the world with a very high human development … The other Emirates occupied positions among the second group countries.”

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However, the 2018 report relies on data that is more than 10 years old. In many instances, there is simply a lack of any data at all. Consequently, the report's authors note that available data is often assumed to be representative of the entire country when it is in fact be only representative of two emirates.

Furthermore, the federal government has invested heavily in education, health and infrastructure since most of the data on the report was issued.

The economic, social and environmental impact of investments in electrical and water infrastructure, roadworks, health centres and the construction of tens of thousands of homes are largely absent from the report, which was compiled in the last two years when many projects were still under construction. The majority commenced following a tour of the Northern Emirates by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Commander of the Armed Forces, in February 2011.

Future studies may find disparities in education, health and economy between Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and the Northern Emirates have decreased following a more active role by the federal government. As the report highlights however, quantifiable data is needed from every emirate to measure what has been accomplished and what remains to be done.