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Medical tourism | Sarath Ganji | Fulbright scholar | Al Qasimi Foundation | Majlis event

Study of Healthcare in the UAE Crosses Borders, Locally and Globally

Al Qasimi Foundation
December 09, 2014

This fall, in an effort to expand its focus on public health research, the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation welcomed to Ras Al Khaimah its first Fulbright scholar, whose work is funded by a prestigious grant from the Fulbright Program. Part of the Foundation’s visiting scholars program, Mr. Sarath Ganji has professional and academic experience in policymaking and public health contexts. 

Established in 1946 and sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the Fulbright Program is the largest international scholarship program of its kind, spanning all fields of study and operating in more than 155 countries. 

Its mission, according to the Institute of International Education, is “to increase mutual understanding and support friendly and peaceful relations between the people of the United States and the people of other counties.” 

Both the Al Qasimi Foundation and the U.S. Mission to the UAE see the benefit of cross-border collaborations like the Foundation’s visiting scholars program. 

“The U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the Consulate General in Dubai admire the Al Qasimi Foundation’s efforts in Ras Al Khaimah and the United Arab Emirates,” says Public Affairs Officer Ali Lejlic. “The Foundation’s vision reflects the great value that the Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, [His Highness] Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, places on education, research, and cultural exchange. The U.S. Mission . . . looks forward to continued collaboration in the future.” 

A recent graduate of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, Mr. Ganji sees his time with the Al Qasimi Foundation as an opportunity to engage with the UAE’s vibrant healthcare community as well as to create bridges between healthcare stakeholders in the UAE and abroad. In particular, Mr. Ganji is fascinated by the growing role played by medical tourism around the globe and in the Emirates. 

Medical tourists are individuals who travel to other countries in search of affordable, high-quality healthcare, and during the first half of 2014, approximately 90,000 of them came to clinical facilities located in Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC), according to figures released by DHCC. 

"Such numbers bode well for a country whose need for specialized physicians—who are unlikely to practice in areas with relatively small populations like the UAE—may be remedied by adding medical tourists to the patient pool,” explains Mr. Ganji. 

Accordingly, his research examines the medical tourism sectors of two emirates, Ras Al Khaimah and Dubai, and their effect on the migration of health professionals to and across the UAE. 

The importance of this subject is underscored by a 2013 report by Health Authority–Abu Dhabi (HAAD), Abu Dhabi’s health regulatory body, that found the emirate in need of roughly 1,500 physicians and over 2,000 nurses annually to meet growing healthcare demand—shortages that exist in other emirates and that have a bearing on public health.

Per Capita Healthcare Resources According to Nation

Therefore, from the Foundation’s perspective, medical tourism represents a key dimension of its research and policy recommendations related to public health in Ras Al Khaimah and its fellow emirates because the field may draw greater medical expertise and talent to the region. 

“Medical tourism is not simply the application of tourism to a new sector,” notes Dr. Natasha Ridge, Executive Director of the Al Qasimi Foundation. “It has broader implications for economic and health system development in the UAE that may contribute to positive health outcomes for the country’s population.” 

So far, the partnership between Fulbright scholar and research foundation has been mutually beneficial. While Mr. Ganji pursues research that may help the Foundation promote evidence-based decision making among local policymakers, he benefits from the Foundation’s core competencies, including its presence in academic and policymaking communities. 

“In the short time I’ve been here,” recalls Mr. Ganji, “I’ve been in touch with public health officials in Thailand, hospital executives in India, tourism researchers in Canada, and legal experts in the US—all with the aim of immersing myself in this growing community of scholars and practitioners working on cross-border healthcare.” His affiliation with the Foundation, he notes, “has been critical in developing relationships with institutions located here in Ras Al Khaimah—institutions that I hope to plug into this broader community.” 

One relationship that Mr. Ganji has been able to forge involves RAK Hospital, a public-private venture that serves the Ras Al Khaimah community while also, per its website, representing “the new medical tourism destination.” The hospital offers a range of specialties, including its new RAK Eye Care Centre, and this highlights the potential for medical tourism to bring advanced healthcare to once under-resourced communities. 

“Blindness and vision impairment are major public health problems all over the world,” stated RAK Hospital Executive Director Raza Siddiqui at the Eye Care Centre’s recent inauguration. “Consequently, there is a great need to develop eye care centers of high quality in the area, and our center is one step in that direction.” 

It’s opportunities like these—to see health system development in emerging economies up close—that drew Mr. Ganji to Ras Al Khaimah in the first place. 

“Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah feature medical tourism sectors at different stages in their development,” he observes. “Dubai’s is more mature, while Ras Al Khaimah’s includes a number of stakeholders that are still engaging in high-level discussions about what medical tourism here might look like. I’m excited to dig deeper into this comparison and tease out what lessons can be learned from each case.” 

Mr. Ganji’s study will continue into 2015 and should contribute valuable data to the Al Qasimi Foundation’s research efforts in the public health field. 

“Strategic international collaborations like this one can help maximize the Foundation’s economic and human capital, to the benefit of the local community,” explains Ms. Caitrin Mullan, who coordinates the Foundation’s visiting scholars program. 

After all, the mission of the Foundation is holistic and includes delivering high-quality research to the community and applying relevant research findings in practical ways, through its capacity development and outreach efforts, both of which are designed to equip a broad spectrum of stakeholders to contribute effectively to Ras Al Khaimah and the UAE. 

“The think tank model in the US is largely tied to research and, increasingly, advocacy,” comments Mr. Ganji. “So, it’s refreshing to be at a place like the Al Qasimi Foundation where implementation is valued as much as research—and both are carried out with an eye toward quality and sustainability.”