Leading Health Problems in the UAE

Looking at studies of health and disease conditions in the UAE over the last 25 years is evidence of the massive transformation in the country’s economy, demographics and lifestyle trends. Over the past decades, the United Arab Emirates has transformed into a rapidly growing economy providing a high standard of living and an abundance of job and growth opportunities. As a result, there has been significant growth in the overall population that is a melting pot of ethnicities, religions and cultural backgrounds. The UAE is also known for its fast-paced environment with long working hours, combined with an unhealthy and sedentary lifestyle. Predictably, this has led to a surge in health related problems amongst the population.

The last few decades have seen a shift in the type of health problems residents of the UAE face. According to the Dubai Health Authority (DHA), back in the 1990s, some of the most common ailments were heart diseases, followed by injuries and then depression coming in third. The order of these has changed over the past two decades with depression taking the top spot, followed by injuries and then heart diseases.

Let’s take a look at some of these medical problems in detail:

Depression

In the UAE, nearly 18% of the population suffers from depression. Due to the stress associated with a contemporary lifestyle, mental health issues have been ranking higher on the epidemiological health issues chart. Feeling helpless, hopeless, tiredness, losing interest in friends and other things, behaving aggressively, short-temperedness, change in sleep patterns, getting irritated quickly and thinking negatively are some of the signs of depression. When someone suffers from depression, it becomes difficult for the person to perform daily activities and it seriously affects their productivity at work. In order to overcome depression, it is necessary that the symptoms and causes are understood.

Bringing about a change in the usual routine and taking a break from regular activities can help a great deal in overcoming depression. As per World Health Organisation (WHO), it is one of the leading causes for disability and existing treatment options, including antidepressants, are not always that effective. In such cases, a special type of treatment known as the Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) therapy is prescribed. This therapy makes use of magnetic pulses which help stimulate the part of the brain that cause depression. If prescribed or advised by a psychiatrist or neurologist, individuals aged 18 to 65 years can undergo the therapy that costs anywhere from AED 300 to AED 600 in the UAE. Each therapy session is 40 minutes long and the overall treatment lasts for a period of four to five weeks.

Unless explicitly stated in your UAE health insurance policy, psychiatric treatments are most likely excluded from your coverage. Moreover, prescriptions such as antidepressants are usually also not covered by insurance companies.

Injury

Injuries are the second most common cause of medical problems in the UAE, commonly leading to death or disability. There were about 1,120 deaths in the UAE between 2000 and 2008, mostly due to road accidents, falls or drowning. According to a report in 2010, injuries accounted for 17% of the overall deaths in the UAE. Injuries are also a major cause of economic loss. The overall cost of treatment, depending on the seriousness of the injury, is quite high. Fatalities due to road traffic accidents and other injuries cost the UAE around AED 3.5 billion per year, which includes the direct and indirect cost of treatment.

Heart diseases

Over the years, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of cases related to cardiovascular diseases, owing to the shift from semi-nomadic lifestyle to an urbanised civilization. According to WHO, the Eastern Mediterranean Region has the largest increase in the number of cardiovascular cases. In the UAE, patients affected with cardiovascular conditions live 15 years less as compared to those in the West. The region has the highest rate of deaths due to cardiovascular disease at around 309 per 100,000 males and around 204 per 100,000 females. Obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and smoking are some of the risk factors associated with cardiovascular diseases. A recent survey carried out by the Emirates Cardiac Society revealed that nearly nine in ten people in the UAE were at a risk of cardiovascular disease. While the initial screening for cardiovascular diseases costs around AED 2,000, the overall average cost of treatment can range anywhere from AED 3,000 to AED 60,000 or more depending on the package you choose for the treatment.

Besides the top three medical problems, there are other medical issues in the UAE that are a major concern for the health authorities. With the massive globalisation and the increasing number of foreign companies setting up their base in the region, the UAE is rapidly adopting fast food. This new found lifestyle has resulted in the rise of affluence related diseases such as obesity and diabetes. Roughly one out of five people in the UAE are obese with more than 66 percent men and 60 percent women being overweight. According to the Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HAAD), the proportion of obese children in the UAE is 1.8 times that in the United States. When it comes to medical insurance, being obese means you will end up paying a higher premium as insurance companies analyse your Body Mass Index (BMI) when underwriting individual health insurance policies.

With the rapid economic development in the UAE, the increasing number of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) is negatively affecting the country’s health indicators. Below are some additional health statistics that highlight the gravity of health related issues in the UAE is:

  1. Children have cholesterol levels similar to that of a 60 year old man
  2. Over 40% of the adult population have high blood pressure
  3. One out of five people suffer from diabetes
  4. 60% of deaths in GCC countries are due to NCDs
  5. 40% of healthcare spending is allocated for diabetes treatment

At Bayzat, we have seen a trend amongst insurance companies in the UAE raising premiums for individuals with a high BMI. This indicates that health insurers are also aware of rising health related issues in the UAE and are beginning to price policies higher for high-risk individuals.

While mandatory health insurance laws are a great first step in making the UAE’s population healthier, changes in chronic disease management and lifestyle changes are crucial to making sustainable improvements. 

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