(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) The medical tourism worldwide is set to become a 100 billion industry this year and the UAE has potential to get considerable share of it because of excellent infrastructure, standard quality healthcare and competitive pricing, a senior official of RAK Hospital said.
The UAE is of the few countries in the world, which has identified medical tourism as a national industry with 14 hospitals are accredited by the Joint Commission International in the US, one of the world's leading accreditation organisations.
"The emirate has some of the best hospitals in the world. Billions of dollars have been invested in the healthcare system, especially in Dubai and accredited clinics across the country to attract medical tourists from across the globe," Raza Siddiqui, executive director, RAK Hospital, told Khaleej Times during an interview.
Siddiqui, who is also chief executive of Arabian Healthcare Group, said the UAE has better chance to become most favoured medical tourism destination with superlative healthcare facilities. He said India, which is considered the most ideal medical tourism destination, is eyeing to capture 20 per cent of 100 billion industry.
"Dubai, being a central place for tourist and a connecting destination, we can aim to capture 10-15 per cent of India's share of medical tourism. Also, people travelling from Africa or nearby countries have to change flights in Dubai to reach India, Thailand, Malaysia or Singapore, hence we can aim at these tourists," he said.
Citing a report by Economic Intelligence Unit, he said overall healthcare spending in the region is expected to increase from an estimated 8 billion in 2010 to almost double at 16.8 billion in 2015, representing an annual average rise of 16 per cent.
"The UAE and Dubai in particular has taken lot of efforts to establish itself as a tourist destination. Today, the UAE attracts 30,000 to 40,000 tourists per day and it scores A as tourist destination that may pave way for medical tourism as well," he said.
Elaborating his point of view, he said world's leading medical tourism destinations such as Switzerland, London, Thailand have initially developed themselves as tourist destinations and then with best medical facilities these countries managed to attract medical tourists as well.
"With rapid infrastructure growth over the last 40 years and boasting of some of the best medical facilities available in the world, the UAE has become a magnet for medical tourism," he said.
Siddiqui said the pricing is no more an issue for patients as medical facilities in the UAE are competitive to developed states and developing countries.
"The UAE's ability to compete on price is no longer a matter of concern. All treatments and procedures, be it cardiac, joint replacements, mastectomy, cosmetic surgeries, etc can be conducted in UAE at almost a similar price compared to India, Thailand and less than Singapore."
He said the average cost of heart bypass surgery in the UAE amounts to 15-18,000, which is comparable with an average cost of 18,500 in Singapore, 15,000 in Thailand, 12-15,000 in India and 10-12,000 in Malaysia.
"The need of the hour is to educate everyone on the options available and aggressively market its unique facilities on a global scale. For this, we require unified efforts, stricter regulation and effective marketing strategy to promote the country as a favourite destination to the outside world," he said.
Dubai Healthcare City, a 435-acre state-of-the-art 'centre of excellence' for clinical and wellness services, is coincidentally the largest international medical centre located between Southeast Asia and Europe. Similarly, world-class hospitals such as Shaikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi, RAK Hospital in Ras Al Khaimah and well-established healthcare facilities in other emirates are acting as catalysts to attract medical tourists from across the globe.
Siddiqui said Ras Al Khaimah's strategic location makes it an ideal destination for tourists from the Middle East, Yemen, Oman, East and West Africa.
"We are marketing RAK Hospital in the African states and the CIS countries. We are talking to local embassies to meet the Ministry of Health, engaged with insurance companies, local hospitals and general practitioners. We have realised that Ras Al Khaimah has all the potential and credits to pull tourists from all over the world," he said.
He said RAK Hospital also has international offices in 11 countries with focus on Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, among others.
"We have a plan to open office in Bahrain. In Afghanistan, we are planning to open diagnostic centre, which will look into primary health check and assessing patient's requirement before travel," he said.