Global standards enable Dubai healthcare to mount strong COVID-19 response

Times India Today | : May 12,2020 10:55 PM IST

Dubai Economy: Global standards and superior capabilities enable Dubai’s healthcare sector to mount a strong response to COVID-19 crisis

The healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors in Dubai and the UAE have shown a remarkable level of readiness and capabilities in facing COVID-19 and its associated challenges. The Emirate’s ability to mount a robust response to the crisis has shown that its sustained focus on attracting large-scale investments in infrastructure as well as research and development related to healthcare, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment has been a prudent strategy, according to an analysis of the Department of Economic Development in Dubai (Dubai Economy).


The healthcare, pharmaceutical and medical equipment sectors are at the forefront of driving excellence in the technical aspects of managing the crisis in the UAE, particularly in Dubai. Pharmaceuticals and Medical Equipment constitute one of the six priority sub-sectors in the Dubai Industrial Strategy 2030, which aims to transform the emirate into a global platform for knowledge-based, sustainable and innovation-focused industries. COVID-19 has made it imperative to continue investing in these sectors for improved readiness to meet emerging challenges, Dubai Economy noted.


The role of the leadership in promoting investment and excellence in the healthcare sector in the UAE has received global attention, especially in light of current circumstances. Following the COVID-19 outbreak, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said: “I chaired a cabinet meeting, in which we issued directives to draft a post-COVID-19 UAE development strategy and hold intensive federal as well as local government meetings to highlight key changes and identify our development objectives as well as our upcoming agenda. We also asked for an urgent plan to be prepared in order to raise the level of productivity and competitiveness of the healthcare industry in the country and formed a working group headed by the Ministry of Energy and Industry.

The new teams are required to work in a faster and more comprehensive manner; further response is needed to accelerate daily changes and our national priorities need to be reviewed by the post-COVID-19 world. Our financial and human resources need to be redirected, and our medical, food, and economic security needs to be further entrenched through new programmes and projects. Preparation for the post-COVID-19 world is the preparation for a new future that no one expected only months ago.”


Dubai has a world-class healthcare sector, a strong infrastructure, and the highest regional per capita spend on medicines, which have proven to be attractive to international companies. Data from the Dubai FDI Monitor indicates that Dubai has attracted 55 foreign direct investment (FDI) projects in the healthcare, pharmaceutical, and medical equipment sectors over the past five years, with a value of AED 3.82 billion.


It is expected that the federal cabinet’s approval for the first list of economic activities open to 100% foreign ownership in accordance with the Foreign Investment Law Dubai will attract further foreign investments into various health sectors. Dubai FDI is preparing to put the list into practice pending completion of internal procedures to deal with investor requests. The list, which includes pharmaceutical and medical equipment industries, and healthcare, including hospital activities, promises to further enhance the UAE’s appeal as a preferred global destination for quality healthcare investments.


According to Dubai Economy, the number of licensed health establishments in Dubai stands at 3,393, which includes 43 hospitals; 41 centres for day surgeries; and 2,056 additional clinics, including speciality clinics, polyclinics, and medical centres. The remaining 1,253 establishments include pharmacies, drug stores, medical laboratories, and imaging centres, among others, according to data from the Business Registration and Licensing (BRL) sector in Dubai Economy. There are also 19 pharmaceutical factories registered in the Dubai Science Park, all of which point to Dubai’s rising position as a global destination for healthcare and medical tourism enterprises.


The pharmaceutical sector in Dubai contributes about 1% of the total GDP of manufacturing industries in the emirate. According to Dubai Customs, the emirate earned AED437 million by exporting medicines in 2019 and AED2.8 billion from re-exports, while total trade in medicines was worth AED16 billion. Pharmaceutical exports out of Dubai have grown exceptionally over the past five years, with rates exceeding 50% each year. The leap in exports followed an increase and diversification of local production.


Middle East countries, particularly Lebanon (19%), Turkey (13%), Iraq (11%), Oman (10%) and Egypt (9%), were the most important destination markets for pharmaceutical exports from Dubai in 2019. The data during the same year indicate that Dubai exported medical supplies to various other markets, including China (9%), US (8%), Kuwait (7%), and India (7%).


Demographic as well as economic factors, such as a growing population, high financial spending, and strong growth in GDP have been the drivers of growth in the pharmaceutical and medical equipment sector in the UAE. The UAE is also considered the most developed market in the Middle East for medicines as its healthcare sector has a robust regulatory environment and infrastructure. The purchasing power of the UAE population and its preference for the latest drugs make the country a strong market for patented drugs. In addition, domestic manufacturing activity in medicines increased significantly over the past few years, with a strong focus on regional and global exports. The UAE also scored higher than the global and regional average in the risk/attractiveness index for the pharmaceutical sector. The Dubai Expo 2020, which will now be held in 2021, is also expected to have a positive impact on the healthcare sector and related consumption.


The pharmaceutical market in the UAE is dominated by foreign multinationals, and most of the major research companies have a long-term presence in the UAE, either through contract manufacturing or local distribution arrangements. Among the most prominent multinational companies are Pfizer and Novartis.


According to the Ministry of Health, the UAE is a regional headquarters for international healthcare companies, more than 90% of which have regional offices in the country, and more than 50% of which serve a region that extends from Africa to Eastern Europe. More than 5,000 employees work in these offices, 25% of whom serve all countries of the region, making the UAE a hub for marketing innovative healthcare products as soon as they are approved by global agencies. This unique position not only enables UAE residents to access the latest solutions but also promotes medical tourism.


The intellectual property (IP) protection environment in the UAE also serves as a major attraction for healthcare solutions providers as well as research & development (R&D) companies globally. IP protection in the UAE is aligned with international standards, which facilitates the availability of the latest health products, medical devices, and medicines, apart from making the sector attractive for innovators, and scientists. The UAE is a member of the World Trade Organization, and a signatory to the TRIPS (Trade-related aspects of IP Rights) Agreement, the Paris Convention, and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

The UAE’s successful efforts in protecting intellectual property in the pharmaceutical sector has been reinforced by the enactment of national legislation that encourages high levels of medical technology transfer and foreign investment. The UAE has also been able to achieve a leading position in combating intellectual property violations, especially in the pharmaceutical field.


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