Photo courtesy of ADIO.

As the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic endures into 2021, the world continues to look towards science and the healthcare sector for hope. Business ideas, innovations and solutions, combined with strong leadership from policymakers, can help turn crisis to stability now and into the future.

The Abu Dhabi government’s response to current health crisis has been effective and is not at the expense of its long-term goals. Its principles and plans to strengthen the healthcare sector by boosting capacity and provision are rooted in the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030: to build a health system fit for the 21st century that puts patients first; for healthcare professionals to raise the bar for healthcare quality; and to adopt innovative technologies for prevention as well as treatment of diseases.

The vision is an enticing prospect for ambitious healthcare businesses of all sizes seeking a launchpad into the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) growth markets and wanting to make a name for themselves in the sector.

Driven by the construction of new hospitals (Global Data’s healthcare projects database reports here are nearly 350 hospital projects currently underway across the whole region), clinics and specialised facilities, there is a strong pipeline of public and private sector investment, especially regarding specialised care, as well as public private partnerships with world renowned medical providers.

The technology, networks, culture, regulations, talent and infrastructure are in place to enable companies to scale, meet their market potential and help solve some of the world’s pressing problems. And the transformation isn’t over yet.

$82bn science, technology and innovation policy

The healthcare sector in the MENA region is witnessing significant growth. According to Fitch, the region’s healthcare market is projected to grow from $185.5bn in 2019 to $243.6bn in 2023. And the UAE government is playing its part in this expansion, having committed $82bn to stimulating innovation in sectors including health, energy and transport.

More recently, the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) launched its new AED2bn ($545m) Innovation Programme to support ambitious businesses, including those in healthcare and biopharma developing innovative solutions for effective healthcare in the future.

Abu Dhabi, an emerging hub for technology and collaboration, offers a conducive environment for international investors as it proactively explores innovation-driven cooperation opportunities.

The public health provider Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (SEHA) partners with healthcare leaders from around the world including John Hopkins Medicine International and Mayo Clinic and collaborates with healthcare professionals and innovators to support the development of creative ideas and understand future trends.

Since 2007, SEHA has overseen a remarkable increase in hospitals and other health facilities. It comprises 13 hospitals and 36 primary healthcare clinics, employs more than 17,000 people from all over the world and sees more than 5.1m patients and visitors per year

Abu Dhabi ranks 12th in the Ease of Doing Business Report

Prior to the 2020 pandemic, Abu Dhabi’s economy was growing and despite the current challenging conditions, it has remained stable. A total of 251 start-up investment deals were recorded in the first half of 2020 across the MENA region, with the UAE receiving the largest share of total funding.

Despite the downturn, the capital, Abu Dhabi, remains a magnet for entrepreneurs and start-ups, connecting businesses with 4.5 billion customers across four time zones.

In January 2021, ADIO partnered with Microsoft and Plug and Play on a range of accelerator programmes, with a number focusing on HealthTech and FinTech, to provide founders and entrepreneurs with tools and resources to successfully scale their businesses and realise ideas that drive positive impact.

Healthcare expenditure in the UAE to rise to $21.3bn

The UAE government is improving its healthcare system to develop a world-class healthcare infrastructure. According to Business Monitor International, healthcare spending is projected to account for 4.6% of the country’s GDP by 2026 (up from 4.2% in 2016).

Given the increasing need for care, Alpen Capital projects that the requirement for beds in the country will reach 14,969 in 2022, representing 2,069 new beds. This demand will be met by the 700 healthcare projects worth $60.9bn under various stages of development.

With 400 beds, Burjeel Medical City, part of Mohammed Bin Zayed City, will be a huge tertiary care complex and the largest private medical healthcare facility in Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi ranked 9th in the Medical Tourism Index

The growing emergence of medical tourism is another factor shaping the outlook of the healthcare industry in the UAE. Abu Dhabi has experienced a steady increase in medical tourism, with visitors seeking treatments from major surgery to rehabilitation and cosmetic corrections.

Judged by destination attractiveness, safety and quality of care, the Medical Tourism Index 2020-21 recently ranked Abu Dhabi 9th out of 45 global destinations for medical tourism.

The medical network now has 40 healthcare facilities, all of which adhere to the requirements of the Department of Health’s Muashir standards to guarantee international patients access to the best-in-class health facilities.

Technology to add $182bn to Abu Dhabi’s economy

According to KPMG’s Who Cares Wins report, the UAE’s health bodies are creating an agile environment by embracing the adoption of new smart technologies in the sector. The country is predicted to add an additional $182bn to its economy by 2035 on the back of accelerated AI adoption.

Digital health solutions including telehealth and remote consultations were introduced in 2019, with select private healthcare operators across the country offering telehealth services.

The DoH’s innovative initative, the AI Lab is running a number of AI-driven telemedicine projects to help improve health outcomes and improve access to services.

According to the Global Healthcare Market Outlook 2019 report by Frost & Sullivan, increased Public Private Partnership (PPP) opportunities in Gulf Cooperation Council countries will continue to drive ongoing smart hospital projects and digital health initiatives such as AI, blockchain and robotics.

Malaffi, the first Health Information Exchange in the Middle East, and a key component of the digital transformation of the healthcare system in Abu Dhabi, is already live. By securely connecting all public and private healthcare providers in Abu Dhabi, it means clinicians can exchange information and access demographic data for 2.3 million patients, as well as accessing 33 million encounters, procedures, problems and allergy records, going back five years.

It’s an example of a PPP (between Abu Dhabi Health Data Services and New Zealand technology solutions supplier Orion Health) that has yielded rapidly successful results.

The right place at the right time

Ideas, innovations and solutions are flourishing in healthcare in Abu Dhabi and this thriving ecosystem, encouraged and supported by strong and effective policy making from the government, means there has never been a better time for healthcare technology businesses to consider investing here.

It is the right place and the right time, and it no surprise so many experts predict investment in healthcare businesses of all size and shape will continue growing through 2021 and well beyond.