United Arab Emirates - Health and Welfare

United Arab Emirates - Health and Welfare

In the years before the discovery of oil, the health situation in the amirates was poor. Those who could afford it obtained modern treatment abroad; those who could not had to make do with traditional remedies. Britain became interested in the region's welfare when it perceived that the United States would gain local influence in the scramble for oil through the successes of United States missionary doctors, who, in Muscat and Bahrain, operated the only hospitals in the region. As a result, in 1938 Britain appointed a medical officer for the Trucial Coast and sent an Indian physician to serve in a dispensary in Dubayy the following year.

In 1949 the British government built Al Maktum Hospital, a small hospital in Dubayy, and appointed a British physician from the Indian Medical Service to initiate modern medical service. Contributions to health care also came from Kuwait, Iran, and the Trucial States Development Fund. Earlier suspicions by the British notwithstanding, in the 1950s and 1960s American Mission hospitals were established in Sharjah, Al Ayn, and Ras al Khaymah.

In 1965 the Abu Dhabi government employed one physician; three others were in private practice. The amirate also received technical and material assistance from Egypt. After federation in 1971, rapid growth but a lack of coordination characterized the health system. Although cooperation in the health field among amirates had improved by the early 1990s, oil companies and the military continued to have their own medical facilities.

All residents received free medical care until 1982. In that year, escalating costs, shrinking oil revenues, and a change in attitude toward foreign residents caused the UAE to begin charging noncitizens for all services except emergency and child and maternity care.

In 1985 there were 2,361 physicians, 6,090 nurses, 242 dentists, and 190 pharmacists, almost all of whom were foreigners. In 1986 the UAE had forty public hospitals with 3,900 beds and 119 clinics. In 1990 life expectancy at birth was 68.6 years for males and 72.9 years for females. The major causes of death registered in Abu Dhabi in 1989 per 100,000 population were accidents and poisonings, 43.7; cardiovascular diseases, 34.3; cancer, 13.7; and respiratory diseases, 8.1. As of December 1990, eight cases of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) were reported in the UAE. Infant mortality declined dramatically from 103 per 1,000 live births in 1965 to twenty-three per 1,000 live births in 1990. In 1985 a health worker attended 96 percent of births.

In the early 1990s, the UAE had a modern health care system with facilities and professionals capable of providing excellent care and performing advanced procedures such as organ transplants and complex heart surgery. Although facilities are concentrated in the cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubayy, most of the population has access to at least basic facilities. The federation's first hospital specializing in pediatric and maternity care, the 374- bed Al Wasl Hospital in Dubayy, opened in the late 1980s. The New Medical Centre in Abu Dhabi, a private facility, is equipped to treat diving accidents. Most hospitals are run by the government.

The UAE also has created an extensive social welfare network that includes family care centers aimed at solving domestic problems and training women in domestic skills and handicrafts. Psychological care is available for troubled youths. The National Assistance Law provides benefits to victims of catastrophic illnesses and disasters. Widows, orphans, the elderly, the disabled, and others unable to support themselves receive social security payments. In 1975 nearly 24,000 citizens benefited from Dh87.7 million in such social aid; in 1982 approximately 121,000 persons received a total of Dh275 million.

Other benefits given UAE citizens are free housing and subsidized furnishings. However, the Ministry of Public Works and Housing reported in 1992 that 70 percent of 15,000 governmentbuilt low-income houses had deteriorated to the point of being uninhabitable. Among the causes were damage from groundwater salinity, failure to grant proprietary rights, and withdrawal of a Dh10,000 per house maintenance grant.

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