Front-line troops: Lifestyle related issues remain a challenge tackled by staff at institutions such as the Imperial College London Diabetes Centre Image Credit: Supplied

Dr Michael Bitzer, CEO of Abu Dhabi’s National Health Insurance Company, Daman, likes his job. While most insurers around the world work for profit, his job requires him to focus closely on the health of the emirate’s population.

“Our task is to support the health-care system in Abu Dhabi,” he tells GN Focus. “We still have to make money and run the company in a sustainable way. We have profit targets, but the main target is to support the health-care system in Abu Dhabi. That is the main reason I am here. That is very attractive.

“This is a semi-governmental company, which is managed like a private company but still has its main target to support the system. That is relatively unique,” he says.

This is one of the peculiarities of Abu Dhabi’s health-care system. Compulsory health insurance for all is another. What ties it all together is that all stakeholders — medical facilities, insurance, bureaucrats and patients — are working together to create a need-based responsive health system.

In late January GN Focus reported that one of the reasons for medical inflation in the UAE is the lack of awareness among patients about primary care facilities. By last month, the emirate’s regulatory body, the Health Authority — Abu Dhabi (Haad), had already announced a majlis, a communication platform between residents and officials.

The first majlis took place at the Madinat Zayed complex in the Western Region. Dr Maha Barakat, Director-General, Haad, says in a statement: “The majlis initiative aims to open communication with the public to get first-hand feedback, comments, complaints and suggestions on quality of health-care services in the emirate and engage them in current and future plans.”

Haad also shared with the public the available health-care services in the Western Region and future improvement and development plans in line with expected population growth.

Rather than merely react to illness, Abu Dhabi’s medical system responds to the health care of the emirate, introducing data-backed measures for better pharmacy management and patient care systems. “Our mid-term and long-term challenges are lifestyle-related issues,” says Dr Bitzer.

Preventive care

“Diabetes is one, because it is a cost driver. It is also a social time bomb. With obesity and diabetes, there are complications and follow-up diagnoses for blindness, renal problems and heart problems as well. It is not only financial loss. It is a social problem.”

Most hospitals in Abu Dhabi make prevention a priority. “We have a lot to offer our patients this year,” says Dr Anwar Sallam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Mafraq Hospital.

“We have a number of activities scheduled on all major world health days. They are designed to generate awareness about personal health and to engage our patients. There will also be a number of workshops as well as exhibitions within our hospital.”

Tawam Hospital recently launched a campaign to raise awareness about car safety for children. In Abu Dhabi, based on Haad statistics for 2008-2010, 71 per cent of child injuries are caused by car crashes.

Cutting across demographics, Haad also launched a new heat stress measure to guide safety on worksites. The measure, known as the Thermal Work Limit, is part of Haad’s Safety in Heat programme, which seeks to create awareness about the risks of heat for all outdoor workers. It takes into account factors such as temperature, evaporation rate, radiant heat and wind speed to yield a figure denoting the harshness of the working environment.

Cutting-edge facilities

Along with a focus on prevention, the emirate is working with the private sector stakeholders to deliver cutting-edge care.

Dr Jamal Al Kaabi, Director — Customer Services and Corporate Communication, Haad, says: “The Health Authority aims to highlight all services provided to the public including birth certificates, medical committee services and many others, in addition to health-care delivery services provided by partners from Abu Dhabi Health Services Company and the private sector.”

The emirate is investing more than Dh14 billion in health-care projects that include the expansion of three major hospitals and the construction of a world-class health-care facility on Al Maryah Island.

Among these is the Dh2.2-billion renovation of the Mafraq hospital campus. When completed, the 245,000-square-metre new replacement hospital will have 739 beds, 288 more than it currently has and 60 examination and treatment rooms, tripling existing facilities.

The development of the new Shaikh Khalifa Medical City is also expected to be a game changer. Costing Dh2.2 billion, the 300,000-square-metre integrated complex will feature three hospitals — a general hospital, a Level 1 trauma centre and tertiary women’s and paediatric hospital.

A new replacement Al Ain Hospital is also planned as part of Seha’s infrastructure development.

Responding to expected population growth from 225,000 to 450,000 in the Western Region, two new hospitals in Ghayathi and Madinat Zayed, two clinics in Liwa and Mirfa and two ambulance stations across all main areas are being launched.

For now, one of the most talked-about developments is the upcoming Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, a multi-speciality hospital currently under construction on Al Maryah Island, as a wholly owned subsidiary of Mubadala Development Company. The clinic says the Dh6.6-billion hospital is the most complex hospital being built in the world.

Another US-headquartered integrative health and wellness brand is also heading this way. DNA Health Corp, is set to open its first overseas flagship centre, The DNA Centre for Integrative Medicine and Wellness, on Saadiyat Island next month.