Sunday, July 23, 2006


What is it like to get sick in the UAE, especially if you are an expat, and especially when it is a serious illness? This question is not so much one of whether there are adequate treatment options--one will probably have a variety of options to choose from with health services improving all the time. The question concerns government policy and whether or not the individual (namely the expat) will be allowed to 1) keep his job and 2) remain in country--which is often dependent on being employed.

The common assumption is that, if you test positive for HIV, for example, you're out of the country--no questions asked. Of course, this is in no small part due to the worldwide stigma associated with AIDS and HIV--a problem not limited to the UAE. What is less clear is what happens to a working expat resident who is diagnosed, say, with cancer or a serious heart condition?

Diabetes is quite common among both the Indian community and local Arab communities. It would not appear that one being diagnosed with this ailment would be at risk of losing one's job or residency. The bottom-line, however, is that there remain a lot of unanswered questions with regard to how people, primarily expats, are treated when serious health issues arise. I believe it safe to say that for minor to moderately severe conditions the right to residency is not in question. For more serious health matters, the illness may not be the only crisis the expat resident faces.

Healthcare City

How does Dubai's construction of what is to be the region's, if not one of the world's, most comprehensive centers for medical services mesh with the UAE's current policy toward sufferers of serious conditions? Ambitiously named Healthcare City, the development will consist of a collection of hospitals and medical centers specializing in a wide variety of treatments.

On the one hand, it sounds like just one more fanciful mega-project to join the likes of Internet City, Media City, International Aid City, Festival City, Academic City, Culture City, and the like. It will follow what Dubai has recently established as its model for success in any industry. That is, to make a city out of it. These cities are, in fact, designated areas housing the likes of a variety of international brands and corporations which excel in the named industry.

The names of some of these cities may seem hokey, but the concept seems to work, with many of the zones attracting substantial international attention and investment. Healthcare City, it seems, will be no exception and at present the site, within the environs of central Dubai, is already well built-up and quite impressive in terms of structures and infrastructure.

The question which arises for the future is how the UAE will maintain its de facto policy of expelling the non-national, seriously ill individual, while at the same time hosting operators who would be expected to provide medical services to the region and beyond. If it becomes simply a matter of offering care to anyone who can pay, then there is no reason why the insurance held by resident expats could not make such payments--as long as one's employment is not terminated.

I won't at this point try to answer, myself, the questions I raise, except to say that it appears hopeful that the odious policy of expelling those with serious conditions may have to be abandoned, in order to harmonize with the country's, and particularly Dubai's, ambition and growing reputation as a place of global appeal and character.

521 words
See Dubai Healthcare City.

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