Dubai expects a 12 per cent rise in medical tourist numbers this year as patients increasingly seek treatment for orthopaedic conditions and cosmetic surgeries.

Layla Mohamed Al Marzouqi, the director of the health regulation department at the Dubai Health Authority (DHA), said the growth was in line with the global trend this year, without elaborating.

Last year, Dubai’s hospitals and clinics received 630,000 medical tourists from outside the emirate, of which 47 per cent were from overseas and the rest from other emirates. By 2020, Dubai expects 500,000 patients from outside the country.

The most popular procedures for which patients seek out Dubai as a destination are orthopaedic and cosmetic surgeries with infertility treatments coming up as a close third, according to Linda Abdullah Ali Ruhi, the head of the medical tourism office at the DHA. "For the Africa market, women’s health and paediatrics could be a niche that we could explore," she said.

There are no official figures for medical tourism for the entire country.

"For the UAE, we are looking to double or triple the number of medical tourists in the coming five years," Amin Al Amiri, the assistant undersecretary of Public Health Policy and Licensing at the Ministry of Health, told The National on the sidelines of the Dubai Health Regulation and Medical Tourism Conference yesterday.

Last week, the National Supreme Drug Registration and Pricing Committee approved 137 new drugs, produced either in the UAE or in the region, Mr Al Amiri said. These are expected to come on to the UAE market in the next few weeks.

"We are careful in introducing patented medicines approved by [the US Food and Drug Administration and other agencies] so that we can provide the best quality of care and medicines, and allow patients from the region to come here as medical tourists and get their treatment here in the emirates," he said.

There are 1,100 medicines being produced in the UAE, and among these 53 are manufactured in a collaboration between local companies and five foreign pharmaceutical companies: MSD, Pfizer, Merck Serono, Sanofi and Gilead Sciences.

There are 16 factories making medicines and medical instruments in the UAE. Another 18 are in the pipeline and are expected to open by 2020, Mr Al Amiri said.

Life Pharma, a part of Abu Dhabi-based VPS Healthcare, expects to start producing its oncology drugs from its new facility at the Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi (Kizad) next year.

As part of the efforts to promote medical tourism to Dubai, a pilot programme to rank hospitals and clinics based on their services by the DHA is under way. That involves five facilities and could take another two years to complete, said Ms Al Marzouqi.

Source: The National