Apollo Hospital 20190822
Apollo Hospital's Chennai facility Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: More than a decade after it exited a joint venture here, India’s Apollo Hospitals wants to make a full-scale return to the UAE. This could include setting up super-speciality hospitals or taking over management of existing ones.

But Apollo - the top privately-owned healthcare operator in India - will not get into setting up primary or secondary hospitals, at a time when the UAE has already seen increased capacities in these categories. Concerns have been expressed in several quarters that this risks all of that capacity going under-used. The investment division of Dubai Healthcare Authority has also sounded alerts about investors/operators needing to broaden the areas they should put their funds in.

Future opportunities in UAE health care are in the super-speciality space, no doubt. The best options for us to make our presence felt would be to expand existing players’ scope of operations.

- Dr. Hari Prasad | CEO at Apollo Hospitals

Dr. Hari Prasad, CEO at Apollo Hospitals, says as much: “Future opportunities in UAE healthcare are in the super-speciality space, no doubt. The best options for us to make our presence felt would be to expand existing players’ scope of operations. Or, we could invest in some of projects here that we find financially viable.

“Saudi Arabia has said it would outsource some of its hospitals - there are some where Saudi players are bidding for these and where we are working as a technical partner. There are a few proposals we are looking at in Saudi Arabia and some in the UAE.

“If we wrap it up before the year-end, we will be more than happy to announce.”

Entry plans
Apollo — the top privatelyowned health care operator in India — will not get into setting up primary or secondary hospitals.

Interesting times for UAE healthcare sector The last five years saw a significant increase in investments in new hospitals, which also attracted overseas names such as South Africa’s Mediclinic which in 2015 went in for an alliance with Al Noor Hospitals. More recently, Mediclinic acquired clinics operated by Majid Al Futtaim group. Abu Dhabi headquartered NMC made a series of acqusitions, both here and oversas, especially in highly specialised services such as at-home care.

Apollo has a presence in other Gulf markets

As it sizes up opportunities in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, Apollo’s has running hospitals in Muscat and Kuwait, and will shortly open another in Bahrain. Currently, overseas revenues make up about 10-15 per cent of its overall numbers, but Prasad wants to push that to the 20-25 per cent range in the next five years. This is where a direct UAE or Saudi presence could help.

Rs2.06b

Apollo’s net profit in the last fiscal year on revenues of Rs96.48b

As to why it exited that earlier joint venture, with Belhoul Group, Prasad said: “At that time, we wanted to focus as much of our attention and investments on expanding our presence in India. The board of directors realised there were so many opportunities… and at the time it was the right decision.” (Apollo still maintains a small operation in the Sharjah free zone, which serves more as “facilitation centre”.) For the last financial year, Apollo - which operates its flagship hospital in Chennai - recorded revenues of 96.48 billion rupees, up by 16.59 per cent. Net profit then came to 2.06 billion rupees.

Other benefits from a UAE presence

Prasad reckons there are many ways that Apollo could build on any UAE presence… not least by using this as a base to attract patients to seek intricate treatments back at its Indian facilities.

“India has the technology and the skills,” he said. “Half the world does not have access to high-end modalities - such as proton beams - to treat something like cancer. Across Southeast Asia, we are the only hospital to have it… and that’s in Chennai.

“We need to convince those in the Middle East who travel to the US and spend $150,000-$200,000 for their treatments to come to India and get the same done for $45,000-$50,000. It’s an argument we need to put out.”

Apollo will land in Kochi soon
Apollo Hospitals will have its first presence in the southern state of Kerala by October. It will operate a 250-bed facility is located quite near the Kochi International Airport. Currently, it operates hospitals in all the major cities of India, together accounting for more than 7,000 bed capacity.

“We will be helping a group from Saudi Arabia to operate the hospital,” said Dr. Hari Prasad, CEO. “Hospital management opportunities are something we will keep focussing on. This is an industry we have a lot of understanding about and which we can pass on.”