Abu Dhabi, UAE: There are severe gaps in healthcare services in Al Gharbia, Abu Dhabi’s western region, health chiefs admitted on Wednesday.
Out of 28 medical specialties, there are shortages in 21. The gaps include vascular surgery, invasive cardiology and the treatment of infectious disease.
By comparison, in Abu Dhabi city there are only two specialities with gaps, and seven in the east of the emirate.
The shortfall is “telling” and “painful”, said Dr Maha Barakat, director general of the Health Authority Abu Dhabi.
“We have analysed it – we have definitely not ignored this. It is a high priority for us to resolve and we are working as effectively as possible to try to cover these gaps.”
Dr Barakat said the authority had identified 10 rural areas that needed health clinics, and had put them out to tender to the private sector in January. She did not say what the response was.
“We’re still in the development phase for fulfilling these 10 services,” she said.
The authority’s chairman, Dr Mugheer Al Khaili, said investors sought profit and would not invest unless they had incentives. In such cases the Government should step in, he said.
“This is our role as a health authority to provide this service,” Dr Al Khaili said.
He said he had visited Liwa Hospital and found an excellent level of service but few patients.
Supporting every medical specialty in every hospital might not be feasible, he said. There was a programme in place with Seha, the Abu Dhabi health services company, to provide doctors in local hospitals during events such as Al Dhafra Festival.
Providing coordinated services in Al Gharbia was a challenge because of its low population density, said Amer Al Kindi, a health policy expert.
“This is an area of improvement for Abu Dhabi, and the fact that it’s on the plan means the Government is taking a good step.”
Another priority for the health authority – attracting and recruiting UAE nationals – was essential for Al Gharbia’s development, he said.
“You need Emiratisation in health care if you want to ensure the needs of rural areas.”
He said it could be difficult to maintain highly trained medical staff in rural areas. In Australia, for example, the government offered citizenship to foreign doctors in exchange for working in rural areas, but found that doctors left after the minimum time.
“In rural areas, especially in primary care settings, one way to ensure quality provision of primary care is to use people in those areas to work there,” Mr Al Kindi said.
While Emiratisation was important for sustainability, it would take longer than five years to see the results, he said, especially in health care, in which professional development took many years.
“To start today means that you see results in 10 to 15 years, and this happens in every country, not only in the UAE.”
The health authority has planned 58 initiatives in seven priority areas of healthcare reform over the next five years.
The priorities are continuation of care, improving quality, attracting and retaining the workforce, emergency preparedness, wellness and prevention of disease, cost effectiveness and electronic health information.
© The NationalDec 2014