Nad Al Hamar health centre Image Credit: Gulf News

Dubai: The UAE’s national health strategy envisages a comprehensive and effective health system for all. The government has been steadily striving to meet this goal providing world-class health facilities, health insurance cover for expatriates and making the UAE a medical tourism hub.

In order to provide health care for over 9 million people in the country, the role of Primary Health Care Centres (PHCs) cannot be overemphasised. The Ministry of Health has over 70 such family health centres across all seven emirates. In Dubai, there are 14 model PHCs run by the Dubai Health Authority (DHA). In Abu Dhabi, these services known as Ambulatory Care Centre and there are 38 of these.

Dr Manal Al Taryam, CEO of Primary Health Care with the Dubai Health Authority (DHA), tells Gulf News of the crucial role played by PHCs. “Prevention of diseases by health promotion is an important aspect of Primary Health Care services,” she said. “It is one of the strategic initiatives of Dubai 2021. Health campaigns are conducted in health centres, schools, universities, public sector offices and for the general public at various locations all over Dubai. Our centres also provide services like anti-smoking clinics, vaccination services, wellness promotion clinics, dieticians and health educators and a variety of health support groups for the community. Our Al Mankhool Health centre provides international vaccination and travel health awareness to prevent epidemics among the many aspects of health care that we cover at PHCs.”

In Abu Dhabi, Ambulatory Healthcare Services (AHS) is a Health System Facility of the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company, Seha, which runs and manages the Ambulatory Care Centres.


What’s the role of PHCs

These health-care hubs offer a range of facilities that position themselves between an individual and large hospitals. PHCCs provide health promotion, disease prevention, health maintenance, counselling, patient education, early diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic illnesses, among other things, thus taking the burden off hospitals by diverting many patients and saving crucial hospital beds for other life-threatening medical conditions such as strokes and trauma.

An AHS spokesperson said, “The healthc-are centres managed by AHS go beyond the standard definition of primary health centres as they provide a wide range of speciality services ranging from family medicine to paediatrics, dermatology, cardiology, ENT, ophthalmology, screening services and general and specialised dental and speciality services.

“They play a crucial role in easing the burden on hospitals by providing patients with speciality services in the comfort of the personalised setting of a health-care centre that is located within their community and is within their reach.”

Gulf News takes a look at how we can benefit by availing of health-care services at these centres in the UAE.





Q: Who can go to PHCs?

Answer: All nationals and expatriate residents can avail of the services extended at these centres.


Q: Will my health card/health insurance work in a PHC?

Answer: While services for Emiratis are funded by the government, expatriate residents can either pay or use their health cards or insurance cards. Insurances such as Enaya, Al Sa’ada, Al Madalla are accepted.

Expats need to have a DHA health card or they can initially pay in cash and later claim reimbursement through their insurance.

In Abu Dhabi emirate, for example, all health-care centres managed by AHS accept Thiqa and Daman, in addition to a host of other insurance providers. Patients without insurance can benefit from AHS’ services by paying for the service. Most patients visiting AHS health-care centres are covered by insurance as this is mandated for residents of Abu Dhabi emirate.


Q: What about an emergency situation?

Answer: Emergency registration (for example, in cases like choking, injuries, burns, wounds, fractures, etc) is done free of cost in Dubai PHCs. Patients without health cards or insurance can also avail of PHC care in emergencies. Till the emergency persists, you are treated free of cost. Once the emergency phase is over, you will be charged for the remaining period of treatment at the PHC.

In Abu Dhabi emirate, the AHS spokesperson says, “Patients can visit AHS health-care centres for all their non-emergency medical needs.”


Q: For what should you go to PHCs?

Answer: People can visit PHCs for all kinds of chronic and acute diseases, management and follow up. They can go for emergency care as well as regular health checks. A battery of services and check-ups are available at all the 14 health care centres. Each PHC is equipped with all-round facilities from radiology to pathology, so you don’t need to go different places for different tests. The PHCs have a variety of comprehensive annual health-care packages for different ages which can be purchased and also used as gift coupons for loved ones (see box).

“Primary health care focuses on family medicine as a medical speciality that provides continuous and comprehensive health care for individuals and their families, nurturing effective doctor-patient communication to make the two sides equal partners in health care, ” said Dr Manal.



Facilities at Dubai PHCs in different health areas


Pregnancy packages

The PHCs have an elaborate pregnancy management plan for women who register with them. This includes comprehensive services such as specialist consultations, regular pregnancy follow-ups, including ultrasound and health education and referral to hospital in case of complications during delivery. Softer issues such as yoga, prenatal breathing and pelvic strengthening exercises for pregnant mothers are also part of the package. Dr Manal told Gulf News: “It is little wonder then that PHCs have become popular for pregnancies and nearly 22,894 births were handled at these centres in 2014 as compared with 14,999 in 2013. Now our centres work two shifts in ante-natal care across all the PHCs.” The PHCs play a stellar role in taking the burden off already overburdened hospitals.


Neonatal care

Once the mother delivers, the next priority is the health of the neonate. PHCs provide early screening programme for neonates. “In 2014 alone, nearly 9,879 neonates were screened,” Dr Manal said. This screening includes carrying out tests for hearing deficiencies, allergies and screening for genetic and congenital anomalies where early diagnosis can change the course of treatment for a child.


Preventive health care

One of the most important aspects of preventive health care is vaccinations and PHCs provide this free of cost for all children up to the age of five. For adults, there are traveller’s clinics run at these centres providing mandatory vaccination for Haj travel and travel to communicable-disease prone regions in the world. In 2014, the Al Mankhool Centre, which has the travel clinic, provided medical consultation and vaccination to 25,399 travellers, of which 7,891 were Haj pilgrims. An additional travel clinic at Nad Al Hammar PHC slated to open soon will be the epicentre of surveillance and monitoring of communicable diseases and quarantine services for suspected cases entering Dubai.


Geriatric care

PHCs play a seminal role in managing the health of the geriatric population by providing testing and treatment facilities. The total number of aged patients who visited geriatric clinics in these centres in 2014 was 6,135. However, the centres also extend home health-care programme for the aged where doctors, nurses and physiotherapists attend to ageing patients in the comfort of their homes.

In 2014, 96 per cent of the geriatric care patients were treated entirely at home with no referral to any hospital and only four per cent were required to be hospitalised.


Mobile laboratories

PHCs run mobile pathology laboratories where they visit homes to collect blood and urine samples to spare the aged the stress of waiting in queues at hospitals. In the last five months since the service was initiated, nearly 5,772 pathology tests were conducted through the mobile labs of which 1,956 were done during the home visit programme and 3,816 were done through community camps. If a resident has the Sehaty app, he or she can have the results of common pathology tests within 7 minutes.


Mobile rehabilitation services

This service is widely welcomed by the old, sick and infirm where the PHC sends its physiotherapist home to conduct exercises. In the last two years, of the 1,054 physiotherapy sessions conducted by the mobile unit, nearly 106 were for home visit patients.


Osteoporosis clinic

For patients above the age of 50, osteoporosis is a a real threat and the PHCs play an important role in protecting the bone health of residents with regular awareness and screening programmes at its centres. In the last five years, around 6,000 patients have been screened for osteoporosis. Of these nearly 20 per cent were diagnosed with osteoporosis and 50 per cent were diagnosed with osteopaenia.