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The UAE is made up of 7 emirates and is a federation of hereditary absolute monarchies with varying degrees of Islamic religious conservatism. Those with higher oil wealth and greater resources developed more quickly, as did their health care systems. The highest standards of health care are in Dubai and in Abu Dhabi.
The UAE has undergone a very rapid demographic transition. In 2013 the UAE's total population was 9.2 million, of which 1.4 million are Emirati citizens and 7.8 million are expatriates. The country is self-sufficient and manages all its health care funding requirements from domestic revenue sources.
The health care system in UAE is a mixed public-private system. There is a public system for Emiratis with centralised management and financing models and there is a large and growing private sector in the main urban centres.
Public health care is organised in 2 tiers:
Primary care is delivered through primary healthcare centres in various levels based on location and size of population served. Hospital care is delivered through general and central specialised hospitals. Emiratis reflect a general lack of confidence in public medical facilities due to lack of local expertise and perceived high costs of care. There is a national strategy in place to reform public healthcare delivery services and to improve quality and efficiency.
Private health care services are increasing at a rapid rate everywhere in the UAE through clinics, private hospitals and medical cities. The number of private hospitals (43) exceeds the number of public hospitals (31).
This growth has been driven by the large numbers of foreign workers and expatriates who are usually not allowed to use Ministry of Health facilities except for emergencies. Cost of health care in the private sector is high and increasing at over 13% annually.
Public medical facilities in UAE are well-organised with a high standard of care. They are dedicated to the needs of the local population, may be overcrowded due to high demand, and are not user-friendly for foreigners and expatriates. Sophisticated medical care is available at all private hospitals and clinics, however quality can be variable, caution is advised. Medical staff are well-trained, usually expatriates and English is spoken universally. Nursing care is usually by expatriate nurses from all over the world, commonly from Philippines. Private hospitals do not usually deal with major trauma, certain complex emergencies, and other specified pathologies, which remain in the public domain as a matter of policy.
A wide range of prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications and medical supplies are available in UAE.
Pharmacies are privatised with good supply chain management and procurement. Prescriptions must be issued by a local doctor. Most pharmacists will not recognise a foreign prescription. Many medications are available over the counter without prescription. Tranquillisers, anti-depressants and sleeping pills are banned in UAE. For patients using these medications, it is advised to carry a notarised translated copy of the prescription with an original cover letter from the prescribing doctor explaining the requirement. This should allow a limited supply to be carried into UAE in person and with the original documentation in hand.
Visitors are generally not required to undertake a medical exam or carry a medical certificate unless they have been in cholera or yellow fever infected areas in the past 14 days. However, visitors should ensure that they are perfectly healthy prior to visiting the UAE as medical costs are high for expatriates and foreign workers. Some of the most common health conditions of foreign nationals in Dubai are alcoholism, respiratory-related problems, dehydration, heat stroke and sunburn. Alcoholism is usually brought about by depression among foreign nationals working in Dubai. Respiratory-related problems are often triggered and aggravated by sand and dust in the air, brought about by the continuous construction in the country. Heat strokes and sunburn are brought about by the extreme heat in the country, which can reach temperatures as high as 50°C.
In cases of health emergencies, it is best to either call an ambulance or proceed to the hospital using a taxi. It is advisable for expatriates to know the location and contact details of the nearest hospital in case of an emergency.