How would you describe the global healthcare climate and what are the implications for the UAE?

SIDDIQUI: When we talk of the developed world in healthcare, the US is the main benchmark. I always refer to the US as the Mecca of medicine. The healthcare industry in the US is maybe the number 2 or number 3 industry. The industry size in the US is close to $1.7tn. When we talk about per capita spend on healthcare in the US, it is more than $6,000. When we come to the UAE, the per capita spend on healthcare is close to $1,600. So we see a huge gap there and we see huge opportunity there. According to the latest population statistics, as per the published census in Gulf News, we now have about 8m people in the UAE. For this population, if we look at the supply and demand of healthcare, we find that there are not enough hospital beds. If you look at the WHO standards, the benchmark is that you should have 1 hospital bed for every 250 people. When we analyze the supply situation in the UAE, we find there is 1 bed available for every 650 to 700 people. So actually, in the next 5 years, we have to double the supply.

Abu Dhabi has made health insurance mandatory, so everyone has access to healthcare. This is a fantastic thing to do. What has happened is that we have seen a dramatic change in the Abu Dhabi healthcare scenario. Small hospitals are seeing more than 2,000 patients per day as outpatients and their capacity is actually only 500 to 700 patients. Not a single hospital bed is available to people at certain times. So actually in Abu Dhabi, we have to double the supply in order to provide.

In the US, when the privatization of healthcare happened in the 60’s, they created an accessibility bridge. So they privatized insurance at the same time, so people had access to private healthcare. What is happening here is 70% of the healthcare is in the government sector, only 30% is in the private sector. I have been around for more than 10 years and there was a time when I was seeing the government losing huge amounts of money on the maintenance of the health of expatriates. To me the government does not have this obligation because it should be the obligation of the employer who is bringing this workforce into this country. They should also manage healthcare for them. Now things are changing. Abu Dhabi has opened private insurance and Abu Dhabi has made it mandatory so that is the situation we are in there today. A lot of private institutions are coming on line and over the next 2 or 3 years the supply should match the demand. Coming back to Dubai and the Northern Emirates, insurance is not mandatory. Around 25% to 30% of the population has private insurance. The rest of the people still depend on subsidized government healthcare or they go back to their country of origin and get treated there in subsidized packages.

Based on our discussion with the Ministry of Health and the different health authorities in the UAE, it is likely that during the next year, insurance is going to be mandatory. Once it is mandatory, then there will be a huge gap in supply. So the opportunity is tremendous, not only for hospitals, but also for clinics, medical equipment, pathology labs, and everything else pertaining to healthcare. This is one of the most promising industries.

When I was with Apollo Hospitals India, my mentor, the Chairman of Apollo Hospitals would always tell me that there is a tremendous opportunity in healthcare. What he used to say was 30% of the Indian population was equivalent to the entire population of the US. In the US, the healthcare industry is $1.7tn. That means that within India itself, you have a US sized market as 30% of the country is entering the middle class and has buying capacity. If accessibility is created, they can have access to the best possible private healthcare. That means there is opportunity for $1.7tn healthcare industry in India as well. We are growing and the middle class is growing. A lot of awareness is growing as well. People know that if they do not take preventative measures, healthcare bills are going to be huge.

This industry is a highly advanced industry where technology matters. You cannot say that once upon a time I was world-class and today I do not have money so I am third class. Nobody is going to come to you. You have to update technology everyday and for that money is required. It is not advisable and it is not viable for governments to invest that kind of money in healthcare. It has to be run on par with other industries. Private entrepreneurs have to come, the accessibility bridge has to be created through private insurance, and then you can provide the latest to the patients. I see a great future and opportunity for healthcare in this region and I am sure within the next 5 years, there will be a sea of change in the healthcare delivery system here.

One more thing, which is very important, is that medical tourism is going to become a $20bn industry in the region. After September 11, 2001, people have either stopped going to the US, or because of visa restrictions, people from this region find it very difficult to go. Dubai and the UAE is the ideal location for this industry because medical tourism requires a few things; primarily good quality healthcare, good infrastructure, and hospitality. Dubai and the UAE are known in the region for top of the line hospitality standards. If we can bring in top of the line healthcare providers to this region, this place is ideal for medical tourism.