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Health Service

United Arab Emirates (UAE) - Health Service

The healthcare standards in the United Arab Emirates are high due to the increased government support through strong economic years. The total expenditure for healthcare in the UAE between 1996 and 2003 amounted to AED 1,601,384,360. Healthcare in the UAE is free only for UAE citizens. Dubai and Abu Dhabi have been ranked as the second and third most popular medical tourism areas in the world.

The UAE currently has 40 public hospitals. The Ministry of Health is also working on a multimillion-dollar program aimed at expanding medical centers, trauma centers, and hospitals over the seven states. Abu Dhabi opened a state of the art general hospital with a bed capacity of 143 patients, home healthcare programs, and a trauma unit. The hospital is now attracting wealthy UAE residents who in the past used to travel abroad for advanced medical care. Dubai on the other hand has the Dubai healthcare city, which is a hospital free zone. It offers international standards of advanced healthcare while offering academic medical training to students. About 12 million people visit Dubai yearly for medical services.

From 2006, residents of Abu Dhabi enjoy the comprehensive health insurance program cost shared by employers and employees. Before 2007, the government health facilities were governed by the General Authority for health services. Later it was restructured into Health Authority Abu Dhabi and it regulates and develops the healthcare sector and policy within Abu Dhabi. The government owned facilities include an autism center, 5 specialized healthcare centers, 57 primary healthcare centers, 3 maternal and child centers, and 13 hospitals, all managed by SEHA.

The healthcare system is a mixture of public and private. Emiratis with centralized financing models and management have a public system, whereas the private sector is popular in the urban centres. The public system is divided into two tiers. Primary care is provided through healthcare centers in different levels depending on the size of the population and the location served. As for hospital care, it is delivered via central and general specialized hospitals.

Emiratis show a lack of confidence in public medical facilities because of a lack of local experts and the high cost of care. Currently there is a national strategy aimed at reforming the healthcare delivery service while improving the efficiency and quality in the public sector. Private healthcare services are more popular, with the number of private hospitals exceeding public hospitals. The growth is attributed to the large population of expats and foreigners living in the UAE. Since expats are not able to access the ministry of health facilities except in emergency cases, the private sector caters to their health needs.

When it comes to the public hospitals in the UAE, they are well organized with a high level of care. They tend to be overcrowded as they meet the needs of the local population and are inaccessible to foreigners and expatriates. Private clinics and hospitals offer specialized medical care, though the quality varies so caution is advised. English is the most commonly used language and nursing care is offered by expat nurses from all over the world. Private hospitals do not handle complex emergencies, specified pathologies, and major trauma.

Some prescription medication, medical supplies and over the counter drugs are readily available. Pharmacies have good procurement and supply chain management since they are privatized. However, prescriptions must be issued by local doctors since pharmacies do not recognize foreign prescriptions. Anti-depressants, tranquilizers, and sleeping pills are not allowed in the UAE. Patients who require these drugs need to have a notarized copy of the prescription, plus an original letter from the doctor who prescribed it with an explanation. The document allows a limited supply to be carried into the country.

Visitors do not need to take medical examinations or carry medical certificates to enter the UAE except if they visited an area infected with yellow fever or cholera in the past two weeks. Visitors should ensure they are healthy before they visit the UAE because the healthcare costs for expats and tourists are quite high.

Common health problems that foreign nationals suffer from include dehydration, alcoholism, heat stroke, respiratory problems, and sunburn. The major trigger for alcoholism is depression. The dust and sand in the UAE can trigger respiratory problems. Sunburn and heat stroke are often caused by the high temperatures experienced in the country.

In case of a health emergency, you can call for an ambulance or head to the hospital using a taxi. Expats are advised to know the contact details and location of the nearest hospital in case an emergency occurs.

According to most healthcare indicators, the UAE is considered a healthy country. The trend is positive and continues to improve. Life expectancy has risen from 75 to 76, similar to that of the United States and countries in Europe. Meanwhile the infant mortality rate has dropped to 11.9. Reports by the World Health Organization show that 100 percent of the population drinks safe water, 92 percent of children are immunized against measles, and 97 percent of people use clean sanitation facilities.

The UAE faces a high prevalence of obesity and diabetes with the trend worsening. The consumption of processed food is high with sedentary lifestyles due to lack of exercise. Coronary conditions, obesity, and diabetes are the most widespread diseases. With 60 percent of the population being overweight, 18 percent are at high risk of getting diabetes, while 20 percent already have diabetes. So far, these rates are some of the highest in the world and are likely to cause many deaths in the next ten years. There are recorded high rates of hypertension, kidney, and cardiovascular problems, which are attributed to lack of exercise, obesity, and diabetes.

Aside from the lifestyle diseases, there are healthcare infrastructure problems. The UAE has a structural deficit when it comes to delivery of healthcare services. Studies show that there are 1.6 doctors for every 1000 people in the region and two beds. Within the next 20 years the demand for treatment will rise with the total number of hospital beds expected to double to 162,000 to meet the needs of the sick.

Read more about this country

Expat Health Insurance Partners

Bupa Global

At Bupa we have been helping individuals and families live longer, healthier, happier lives for over 60 years. We are trusted by expats in 190 different countries and have links with healthcare organisations throughout the world. So whether you're moving abroad for a change of career or a change of scene, with our international private health insurance you will always be in safe hands.


Cigna has worked in international health insurance for more than 30 years. Today, Cigna has over 71 million customer relationships around the world. Looking after them is an international workforce of 31,000 people, plus a network of over 1 million hospitals, physicians, clinics and health and wellness specialists worldwide, meaning you have easy access to treatment.