Signing ceremony between Nanoori Hospital Founder and Chairman Dr Il-Tae Jang and Emirates Specialty Hospital (DHCC) CEO Ala Atari on January 19, 2020 Image Credit: Supplied

Healthcare plays an increasingly crucial role in the bilateral cooperation between the UAE and Korea, with both countries currently working closely in public health sector to respond to the Covid-19 crisis.

Korea has also been a destination of choice for UAE residents seeking advanced treatment and care. His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, once said, “In running the healthcare system, many countries tend to focus only on the health and neglect the care, but Korea fulfills both, the health and the care superbly.”

More than 20,000 UAE patients have flown to Korea for medical treatment since the Patients Referral Agreement was signed between the two nations in 2011. The number of Emirati patients is expected to increase over the coming years, with many Korean hospitals providing patients with Arabic translators, halal meals and prayer rooms.

Demand for Korean expertise in healthcare is also strong in the UAE, with hundreds of doctors, nurses, and professionals from Korea working in a number of hospitals and clinics across the UAE. In particular, Seoul National University Hospital (SNUH), which is Korea’s most prestigious hospital, officially signed an agreement in 2014 that was renewed for another five years in 2019, as the operator and manager of Sheikh Khalifa Specialty Hospital (SKSH) in Ras Al Khaimah, a leading tertiary medical hub in the Northern Emirates.

Korea’s Nanoori Hospital, which has a long and successful track record of caring for patients from the UAE for over a decade, launched its first outpost in Dubai, Nanoori Spine and Joint Clinic, earlier this year. The clinic is operated in partnership with Emirates Specialty Hospital at Dubai Healthcare City.

“Opening our first clinic during the start of a global pandemic has not been easy, but the positive word of mouth about us is very strong,” says Warren Chang, Managing Director, Nanoori Spine and Joint Clinic. “We’ve had several miracle surgeries and we’ve grown quickly in the past six months, having seen thousands of patients, provided rehabilitation services for hundreds, and offered the best surgical results for dozens more,” says Chang.

The strength of Nanoori Spine and Joint Clinic’s treatment options is two-fold. “The first is our non-surgical treatment options which include the most up-to-date and safe pain management and rehabilitation services. Secondly, we are offering the latest generation of endoscopic spine surgeries and arthroscopic shoulder and joint surgeries,” Chang explains.

Also responding to the demand for Korean healthcare in the UAE is Himchan Hospital, which opened Himchan-UHS Joint & Spine Center in collaboration with University Hospital Sharjah (UHS) in 2018 to offer advanced care for spine, neck, joints and bones as well as support the medical tourism goals of the UAE.

“We have noticed that patients mostly prefer not to have open surgeries due to possible post-operative complications and risks associated with surgeries. Spine surgeons at Himchan are specialised in endoscopic surgeries and will only leave less than one centimetre of surgical wound. This leads to less pain and faster recovery after the surgery and most patients can be discharged the next day,” says Dr Seung Jun Park, Consultant Orthopedic Surgeon and Head of Himchan - UHS Joint and Spine Center.

“Himchan, for the first time, has introduced the technology of unilateral biportal endoscopic surgery in the UAE,” he adds. Himchan also offers a range of non-surgical spine treatments such as epidural injection, percutaneous epidural neuroplasty (PEN), vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty. The hospital also boasts highly-qualified orthopedic surgeons for knee, shoulder, hip, small joints (wrist, fingers and elbow), foot and ankle treatments.

“Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure used for joint surgeries. This has multiple benefits such as less trauma, shorter hospitalisation period, and faster recovery. For this reason, most of the orthopedic surgeries, except for joint replacement surgeries, are arthroscopic at Himchan–UHS Joint and Spine Center,” he explains.

Since its launch two years ago, Himchan has handled 19,127 out-patients. “We are expecting to reach 20,000 by the end of this year,” says Dr Park. “We performed a total of 634 surgeries and this figure is continuously increasing with high patient satisfaction rate. Himchan’s Physiotherapy Center accommodates around 70 patients each day and the total number of physiotherapy patients who visited the centre this year, has already doubled since the last year.”

With the accumulation of mutual trust and experience, Korea and the UAE have continued to push the boundaries of cooperation in the healthcare sector, including the provision of medical supplies, sharing of clinical experience, and most noticeably in recent cooperation to contain the spread of Covid-19 pandemic.

More joint projects are also in the pipeline, such as managing local hospitals by Korean medical institutions and joint research on the prevention of infectious diseases. In addition, bilateral cooperation is expected in other areas, including the collection of medical data, training and exchanges of medical staff, and the development of medical insurance infrastructure.