Health care education is a lifeline for the national economy

A health economy is a healthy economy.

Several significant announcements this year – including the news that Dubai will benefit from three new medical colleges and five nursing schools over the next 10 years and the introduction of mandatory health insurance in some GCC countries – should be a catalyst for economic growth in other areas of the economy.

Because of investment in health care education, which is part of the total transformation of the healthcare service delivery system in the UAE, we expect further sustainable growth and economic benefits in sectors such as construction, medical technology, medical insurance, higher education, training and finance.

As the former vice chancellor for Abu Dhabi University, I was heavily involved in plans to start medical and health service colleges and schools for the higher education sector in the UAE in the 2000s. I believe it’s clear that when a wise, sustainable and targeted health care investment is made into a local economy, the associated markets and industries will feel ripple effects.

Research shows that the increase in government and private-sector spending on higher education can boost employment opportunities and the output of goods and services in the local and national economy by up to five times the investment’s value.

What sets the UAE apart from other countries in the Arabian Gulf region is that the federal and individual emirate governments and the private sector are backing the broader vision for public health with strategic investments intended to drive the industry forward.

The private sector is finding attractive and promising investment opportunities in the health care market in Dubai. A recent example is the announcement in February that Gulf Finance Corp intends to tap into the medical sector in the UAE and Saudi Arabia after raising Dh500 million. The SME finance lender plans to have between 5 per cent and 10 per cent of its total exposure at the portfolio level in the medical sector, having identified the health care sector as extremely attractive.

Alongside benefits, there are also challenges, and one of the largest for the UAE’s health care delivery system is the demand and urgency to develop local workforce talent in a health care setting, in particular those in a midlevel position such as nurses and nurse practitioners.

Of the more than 3,000 nurses working for the Dubai Health Authority, only 55 are Emiratis.

Professional training and development for the workforce in this sector can have a huge effect on economies. The UAE needs to start promoting long-term planning and secure reliable investment streams for new campus-based and online learning programmes in health and medical care to help prepare a highly trained workforce in the health care sector.

A significant influx of educated and trained medical professionals over the next decade will not only improve the standard of health care in the region, but it will also significantly benefit the whole society, educationally and economically, for generations to come.

Contemporary empirical research indicates that the economies of countries and communities that have increased investment in health and medical care services reap significant economic benefits and create new economic activity. In other words, the return on investment is positive and sustainable for the long run.

Most significantly for the local population, the investment creates a pool of employment opportunities for Emiratis, who previously may have had to travel abroad to match their career aspirations in a health care setting. Employment opportunities will expand for new health service providers in primary care, hospitals, clinics, hospices, elderly and residential care, psychiatric care, occupational health, alternative medicine, traditional medicine, ambulances, diagnostic services and telemedicine models. Attracting and retaining highly competent local talent to fill skills gaps in certain medical professions will become an easier task.

Providing greater access to high-quality health care education for Emiratis through investment in new and appropriate educational institutions will ultimately lead to an increase in employment rates and the creation of better paid jobs that support the rise of the middle class and the national income. This scenario has the potential to go on and on, and perhaps one day not far off we can call UAE the new Silicon Valley of health care in the Middle East.

Mountasser Kadrie is the academic programme director for the Master of Healthcare Administration programme at Walden University’s College of Health Sciences.

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