The UAE has a highly developed health service, including a sophisticated physical infrastructure of well-equipped hospitals, specialised clinics and primary care centres. Health care is free for all nationals and there is a compulsory health insurance scheme in place in Abu Dhabi to cover all residents. The scheme will be extended country-wide.
Currently, there are 65 hospitals in the UAE, 15 of them federal institutions, and over 150 primary health-care centres and clinics, in addition to 11 school health centres, 10 centres for mothers and children and 110 special units for mothers and children in hospitals and primary health-care centres. This compared with 7 hospitals and 12 health centres when the Federation was established in 1971.
Nevertheless, as the population increases and health-care demands burgeon, Government policies and strategies, such as Emirates Vision 2021 and the Strategy of the Government of the United Arab Emirates 2011–2013, are committed to make continuing improvements to health care, including in remote areas. Among the planned projects are 9 walk-in health-care clinics for Abu Dhabi and Al Ain and the new Mafraq Hospital, with 750 beds, 283 more than the existing facility. The new hospital will have up to 500 physicians, including many specialists from abroad, but with a strong emphasis on training Emirati doctors.
The country's first hospital dedicated to paediatric care, the 200-bed Al Jalila Children's Speciality Hospital is being built alongside Latifa Hospital in Dubai.
Approximately 60 per cent of the 364-bed Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, which is being built on Sowwah Island, is complete. The Clinic will provide world-class care in digestive diseases, opthalmology, cardiac and vascular care, neurology, respiratory and critical care, ensuring that Emiratis no longer have to travel abroad for specialised treatment. Medical tourists will also be encouraged to come to the country to avail of facilities. The medical tourism sector is projected to grow by about 15 per cent annually.
The Clinic will join Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi and many hospitals in Dubai at Dubai Healthcare City and other locations, as well as adjoinging emirates, in providing UAE residents and nationals with exemplary care. According to Deloitte, the total health-care spending in the UAE will almost double by 2014, raising the sector's contribution to GDP from 2.8 per cent to 3.4 per cent.
Currently, pre- and post-natal care is on a par with the world’s most developed countries. Maternal mortality rates in 2008 were 10 per 100,000 and 99 per cent of births are attended by skilled health personnel. The mortality rate for under-fives per 1,000 live births was 6.7 in 2009. This means that the Millennium Development Goal target of 3.8 set for 2015 is not only achievable but could be exceeded, if progress continues to be made at the current rate.
Available figures on immunisation ratios for all vaccines show that they are administered uniformly to over 90 per cent of newborns. Most infectious diseases like malaria, measles and poliomyelitis that were once prevalent in the UAE have been eradicated. New vaccination campaings are taking place to protect against chicken pox, pertusis and the rotavirus. In addition, access to clean water in urban and rural areas is assured for 100 per cent of the population, and close to 100 per cent use modern sanitation facilities.
As a consequence of this high standard of care at all stages of the system, life expectancy at birth in the UAE, at 76.5 years, has reached levels similar to those in Europe and North America. Unfortunately however, as elsewhere, lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer are taking their toll in the UAE.
According to the Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HAAD), cardiovascular diseases accounted for over a quarter of deaths in Abu Dhabi in 2011. Adult nationals were screened for cardiovascular risk factors in 2008 showing obesity rates of 33 per cent for males and 38 per cent for females, indicating a high proportion at risk from diabetes and hypertension. Indeed, 2011 statistics highlight an increase in the overall number of diabetics. Even though risk factors have increased, the overall rise could be attributable to better detection of the disease. However, statistics show that as much as 20 per cent of the local population are diabetic. A recent study has also indicated that 41 per cent of the UAE population over 30 suffer from hypertension, significantly higher than the global average of 25 to 30 per cent.
Cancer, for its part, was responsible for 14 per cent of all deaths in Abu Dhabi in 2011. In effect, cancer is the third-leading cause of death in the country, after heart disease and accidents. Breast, colon and prostate cancer are the three most common types.
Although world-class facilities such as the Imperial College London Diabetes Centre and the Gulf International Cancer Centre, Dubai Hospital, University Hospital Sharjah, and the Johns Hopkins affiliated Tawam Hospital in Al Ain are providing exemplary care, there is a renewed focus on prevention both at Government level and by voluntary groups. For example, the equestrian Pink Caravan Initiative, created by the Sharjah-based Friends of Cancer Patients Charity, which treks across the country with a mobile screening unit, had by January 2013 successfully screened over 16,776 men and women since its inception in 2011. Other initiatives include walks to raise awareness about diabetes, anti-smoking campaigns, and healthy diet and fitness drives.