Hub Healthcare: Medical Travel and Health Equity in the UAE
In 2010, the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) spent a quarter of its total healthcare budget to send its citizens abroad for medical treatment. These patients, consumers who cross international borders for the purpose of obtaining healthcare, are participants in a phase of globalization referred to as “medical travel” or “medical tourism.” Their movement coincides with the cross-border flow of health services, professionals, and companies, shaping a global industry valued at as much as U.S. $55 billion. In the years ahead, this industry is expected to grow—and, in doing so, to bring a greater number of national health systems in contact with international patients and providers. Bearing witness to these changes, the UAE has increasingly looked to medical travel—and attracting international patients—to improve its health system and to diversify its economy. These outcomes, however, overshadow the equity effects that may result from the influx of such patients, potentially crowding out local residents, especially expatriates, who may see little from these gains. This working paper provides evidence, based on the examples of Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah, that medical travel presents the UAE with a mix of equity benefits and harms. To manage these harms, the paper recommends that local governments and healthcare providers incorporate monitoring and planning mechanisms into their medical travel initiatives.