The Recap: The Future Of Healthcare Forum Staged By The UAE Ministry Of Health And Prevention In Collaboration With Entrepreneur Middle East

With three panel discussions featuring leading figures from the UAE's healthcare sector, this event looked into the progress made by the industry in the recent past, as well as the steps it needs to take to bolster its future.

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Editor in Chief, Entrepreneur Middle East
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This article was co-written with Aalia Mehreen Ahmed, Features Writer, Entrepreneur Middle East

Held as a collaboration between the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention and Entrepreneur Middle East, the Future of Healthcare Forum was staged as a physical conference at Sofitel Dubai The Obelisk on Wednesday, April 7, 2021. As an event exploring the shifts made in the UAE’s healthcare sector amid the global COVID-19 crisis, the Future of Healthcare Forum was held with the support of Innovation Partner, GE Healthcare; Exclusive Insurance Partner, Daman; Gold Partner, OJ Lifestyle; and Silver Partners, Philips and 3M Middle East.

With three panel discussions featuring leading figures from the UAE’s healthcare sector, this event looked into the progress made by the industry in the recent past, as well as the steps it needs to take to bolster its future. Besides representatives from the event’s partners, the conference also featured speakers from AstraZeneca, PwC Middle East, Gargash Hospital, Abu Dhabi Healthcare Services Company (SEHA), Black Lab Dubai, and Bayer. Emceed and moderated by Eithne Treanor, the Future of Healthcare Forum saw 150 attendees at the venue, and it was also livestreamed to more than 100 attendees online. What follows is a rundown of a few of the key talking points from the conference.

“It has been devastating in terms of what we’ve been through with COVID-19, but it has also provided us with a great and powerful opportunity.” 

SAQR AL HEMEIRI CHIEF INNOVATION OFFICER, UAE MINISTRY OF HEALTH AND PREVENTION 

In his keynote address at the Future of Healthcare Forum, and later during his participation in the event’s first panel discussion, Saqr Al Hemeiri, Chief Innovation Officer, UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention, highlighted how the UAE’s healthcare sector was able to put up a strong front in the battle against the global COVID-19 crisis thanks to the country’s and its leadership’s insistence on being at the forefront of whatever it sets out to do. “We put innovation at the core of what we do a long while ago, and that’s what has been responsible for how we have responded to COVID-19 in the UAE,” Al Hemeiri said. This ethos, he noted, is what is governing MOHAP’s work in terms of bolstering its future in the long-term. “We don’t just strive to be the best healthcare system in the world, we want to be the role model for other countries in the world,” he declared.

"Through our experience with the production of our COVID-19 vaccines, we have realized that external collaborations and strategic partnerships are the way forward.”

HICHAM MIRGHANI, COUNTRY DIRECTOR (UAE, QATAR, BAHRAIN, OMAN), ASTRAZENECA

With the vaccines produced by his enterprise now playing a key role in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, Hicham Mirghani, Country Director for the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman at AstraZeneca, noted how their development and rollout was made possible through a variety of partnerships and collaborations with players in both the private and public sectors of countries around the world. According to Mirghani, this is an indication of how enterprises like AstraZeneca will function in the future, and that is something that bodes well for the healthcare industry as a whole. “The old model of the pharma companies, which was just focusing on developing and manufacturing medications, is over,” he said. “I think that, now, most pharma companies are trying to go beyond pills, and [instead] are trying to build integrated ecosystem solutions.” 

“We have a chance to reimagine how healthcare is delivered. We’ve learnt so much, and we can capitalize on this.”

LINA SHADID, MIDDLE EAST HEALTH INDUSTRIES LEAD PARTNER, PWC MIDDLE EAST

According to Lina Shadid, Middle East Health Industries Lead Partner, PwC Middle East, the manner in which digital technologies have played a central role in how healthcare has been administered amid the global COVID-19 pandemic is an indication of the amount of positive change that can be made possible within this industry, if only one is open to it. Having said that, Shadid also cautioned against thinking of such technologies as a one-size-fits-all solution for all of the problems associated with healthcare in the world at large. “Digital cannot be the answer to everything,” she noted. “From a global scale, we have millions of people still without access to the internet. We need to think about that when talking about the future of healthcare.” 

“When you are in a very difficult situation like we have been globally with COVID-19, it forces you to collaborate outside your norms- and that’s something we need to keep doing, going forward.”

ROBERT HUGH NICHOLS, VICE PRESIDENT AND MANAGING DIRECTOR, 3M MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA 

In March 2020, 3M announced that it had partnered with the Ford Motor Company to build air purifying respirators that were needed to protect healthcare workers working to battle the coronavirus pandemic. This collaboration between the two entities is just one example of the many business partnerships that have come into being over the course of the COVID-19 crisis, with such relationships having resulted in positive benefits for all stakeholders involved. Having brought this example up at the Forum, 3M Middle East and Africa Vice President and Managing Director Robert Hugh Nichols noted that such alliances shouldn’t be considered simply as a stopgap for our current circumstances- according to him, these kinds of unions still have an important role to play in the long-term. “I think it’s really important that we make sure we have learned from this kind of wake-up call that we’ve had over the last 12 months,” he said. “The crisis, after all, is still ongoing- it hasn’t finished yet, and it is going to be with us for a while longer.” 

“In my view, the hospital as we know it is dead.”

DR. SAMIR SAID, GENERAL MANAGER - CONNECTED CARE AND HEALTHCARE INFORMATICS, PHILIPS MIDDLE EAST, TURKEY AND AFRICA

According to Dr. Samir Said, General Manager - Connected Care and Healthcare Informatics, Philips Middle East, Turkey, and Africa, one of the shifts the COVID-19 crisis has inflicted on healthcare systems around the world is a reimagination of where their offerings and services can be accessed or delivered. “The home will become one of the next hubs for healthcare in the future,” Dr. Said declared, with him noting how the advent of advanced technologies will mean that patients will not necessarily have to go in for sequential visits to a hospital or a clinic, and yet, still be surrounded by a suite of caregivers- albeit virtually. While the technology to enable such interactions may have been with us for a long while already, the COVID-19 crisis forced people to make use of it in a more consistent fashion- and there is no turning back from this trend, Dr. Said predicts.

“In terms of the future of healthcare, we have to reimagine everything- we have to reimagine ourselves, reimagine our organizations, reimagine even our societies, in terms of a paradigm shift. If we don’t do that, we’ll fall behind.”

DR. MUAAZ TARABICHI, CONSULTANT, GARGASH HOSPITAL, AND CHAIR-ELECT, INTERNATIONAL ADVISORY BOARD, AMERICAN ACADEMY OF OTOLARYNGOLOGY - HEAD AND NECK SURGERY FOUNDATION

When speaking about the response of the global healthcare community to the COVID-19 crisis, Gargash Hospital’s Dr. Muaaz Tarabichi noted it to have been quite outstanding, especially when it comes to the underlying technologies that drove it. Be it the genome sequencing that enabled the creation of the COVID-19 vaccines, or the ongoing monitoring of the coronavirus and its mutations on a global scale, cutting-edge technologies are clearly playing a critical role in the evolution of the healthcare; however, Dr. Tarabichi noted that all of this shouldn’t discount the importance of the interpersonal relationships that are at the heart of the medical profession. “I think the physician’s experience, as the first point of contact with a patient, offers a very important and different perspective from anyone else,” he said. “However, often, because of the number of players in the healthcare market, physicians end up not being recognized in their rightful role in this ecosystem. And that’s something that should be avoided, because people in this field should understand that there is nothing that can replace the perspective of a physician.”

“The maturity of the UAE healthcare system is what allowed us to contain the COVID-19 pandemic as quickly as we did.”

DR. KALTHOOM MOHAMMED AL BLOOSHI, DIRECTOR OF HOSPITALS DEPARTMENT, UAE MINISTRY OF HEALTH AND PREVENTION

In her address to the audience at the Future of Healthcare Forum, Dr. Kalthoom Mohammed Al Blooshi, Director of Hospitals Department at the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention, pointed out how the UAE’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been nothing short of exemplary- indeed, the Global Entrepreneurship Index for 2020 placed the country second in the National Governments’ Response to the COVID-19 lockdown and its impact on the entrepreneurial sector. But if one is to drill down into the reasons behind the strength of the UAE’s healthcare system, Dr. Al Blooshi said it can all be drawn down to the vision of the rulers of the country. “In the UAE, we are fortunate to have a leadership who have foresight,” she said, explaining that while a pandemic may never have been thought of as a reason to build a strong healthcare system, the country’s decision to aim to be the best at everything it does is what ultimately allowed it to bear the crisis so well. 

“Tomorrow is now. But to get there, we really need to unleash innovation- and innovation can come only when all of us, companies, clients, and caregivers, collaborate.”

EHAB ZAWAIDEH, GENERAL MANAGER - MIDDLE EAST, GE HEALTHCARE

While discussing the impact of data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) on the healthcare sector, Ehab Zawaideh, General Manager - Middle East, GE Healthcare, spoke of its role of in not only helping hospitals culminate segregated clinical data more efficiently, but also in using their operational data better. He provided the example of GE’s integrated Edison platform, with which the company is building data consolidation techniques that will help improve patient outcomes and increase access to healthcare even beyond the pandemic. However, if such efforts are to succeed, all parties in the healthcare system need to work together- as Zawaideh put it: “Innovation can only happen when all of us collaborate- companies, clients, as well as caregivers.”

“If we want to build something faster, we have to remove ourselves from thinking only in silos.”

FREDERIK BISBJERG, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR - DIGITALIZATION AND INNOVATION, DAMAN

Daman’s Frederik Bisbjerg was very honest in his appraisal of the overall global scenario when it comes to implementing innovations in healthcare. “There are still many countries and organizations in the world that don’t have the capability to implement and use the innovation that we are delivering,” he said. “What I am focused on is understanding how we can take the good we are doing, and bring it into a real-world setting.” Bisbjerg also noted how cost-saving measures and revenue-generation techniques can go hand-in-hand thanks to digital health prevention programs. The introduction of such programs can ensure healthier populations, he said, which in turn will cut down costs for hospitals. 

“The ecosystem has to be in place- with the right funding, education, and awareness. If the foundation is laid right, then we can move forward.”

DR. HINDA DAGGAG, CORPORATE GENETIC PROJECT HEAD, ABU DHABI HEALTH SERVICES COMPANY (SEHA)

Personalized medicine was the theme of the panel discussion that Dr. Hinda Daggag, Corporate Genetic Project Head at the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (SEHA), was a part of, with her explaining the term as “a medical model where the medical treatment is tailored to the specific needs of a patient, and that tailoring is done by using the genetic profile of an individual to guide in terms of diagnosis or preventative diagnosis.” Giving the example of the Human Genome Project, which was first conducted in 1990 by the National Human Genome Research Institute in the US, she noted how the initiative revolutionized the concept of personalized medicine, and how it has led to the development of the UAE’s Emirati Genome Project, a government initiative aiming to conduct genome sequencing on one million Emiratis. “Initiatives like the Emirati Genome Project show the UAE’s commitment to personalized medicine,” she explained, “And they can help bridge the gap between research-based data and clinical practice.”

“With the money that is being spent in healthcare systems now, I am sure that, after a few years, we are going to see a number of new treatments, vaccinations, etc. What we need is for this momentum to continue.”

H.E. DR. SAQER AL MUALLA, DEPUTY CEO AND HEAD OF PLASTIC SURGERY DEPARTMENT, AL QASSIMI HOSPITAL

At the Future of Healthcare Forum, Al Qassimi Hospital’s H.E. Dr. Saqer Al Mualla shared his insights on the benefits of a centralized platform in healthcare systems, which, in his enterprise’s case, organizes all of the medical treatment information for patients in an organized and personalized manner, and thereby ensure that they get a more efficient and comfortable experience whenever they need care. “We wanted an efficient approach towards medical treatments, and so, we created regenerative centers where a patient can meet a panel of doctors, and receive all information on a tailored treatment that will be administered over a period of time,” Dr. Al Mualla explained. “The traditional method is that you go to a doctor, get the treatment, and then he/she refers you to another doctor- we want to change that into a more holistic form of treatment.” 

“With the push around health, AI, and machine learning in Dubai now, we’re using this as a forefront to grow one of the largest human performance and human potential centers in the Middle East.” 

REZA MOHAMMAD KAZEMIPOUR, CO-FOUNDER AND MANAGING DIRECTOR, BLACK LAB DUBAI

As the co-founder of a platform that aims to help people realize and recognize their own potential through science, Black Lab Dubai’s Reza Mohammad Kazemipour was keen on explaining how knowing oneself is key to everyone being able to make more informed decisions in life- and that’s the offering he wants to provide to the world at large. “Our goal is to offer this service to everyone- whether you are a janitor or a prince, everyone should have the opportunity of understanding who they are,” he said. “And that’s one of the things we are trying to do, creating a baseline for everyone- once you create that baseline, then you can see where your opportunities are, what your potential as a human being is, and then execute on it.”

“The Middle East healthcare market has been transformed by COVID-19, with technology as the catalyst. These advancements as a result of the pandemic have triggered behavior change across the Middle East, making personal, preventative care possible.”

MOHAMED GALAL, VP, HEAD OF MIDDLE EAST, BAYER CONSUMER HEALTH

“COVID-19 has left nothing unchanged!” That was how Bayer Consumer Health’s Mohamed Galal responded to a question at the Forum on how the coronavirus pandemic impacted the healthcare sector. According to him, over the past year, everything from the way business is done in this sector, to the collaborations between the health authorities, companies, and consumers has seen a massive paradigm shift. Indeed, it was thanks to the speed of action and collaboration between various stakeholders within the ecosystem that allowed for the crisis to be tackled as it was in the UAE- and that’s what one needs to remember as we move ahead, Galal noted. “The main challenge is as leaders, are we accepting all of the new innovations that are coming our way? And if we have doubts, are we using our influence to educate others? The acceptance and response from stakeholders and practitioners are key to success,” he said. 

Related: The UAE Ministry Of Health And Prevention's Saqr Al Hemeiri On Building A Culture Of Innovation

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