HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein is set to lead an overhaul of Dubai Healthcare City in a bid to attract fresh healthcare brands to the free zone and capture a slice of the lucrative medical tourism market.
Princess Haya, the wife of Dubai’s ruler, will oversee a restructuring aimed at shifting DHCC’s focus away from real estate and back to healthcare, her office said in an emailed statement.
The revamp will ensure “real estate would be a component that complements [DHCC’s] sustainability, but is never at the heart of its operation,” the statement said.
All existing projects in the development are under evaluation, and DHCC is in talks with a number of medical institutions to bring the project in line with its new focus, the statement said.
Princess Haya will report directly to HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum.
DHCC was launched in 2002, in a bid to stem the tide of local patients seeking medical care abroad. The city, which houses more than 90 clinical outlets, is a unit of Dubai Holding, a state-owned developer that this year held talks with lenders to restructure $10bn of debt.
The free zone, which features residential buildings and hotels, was badly hit by Dubai’s real estate crash which saw house prices tumble more than 60 percent from their mid-2008 peak.
More than half of developments in the city were scrapped or put on hold in the wake of the financial crisis, leaving construction firms scrabbling for cash as project finance dried up.
DHCC said last year its 400-bed University Hospital, the jewel in the crown of the $5.3bn healthcare city, now had no firm opening firm after construction slowed in the downturn.
The free zone has also struggled to retain clinics as the financial crisis squeezed smaller healthcare operators. US-based Mayo Clinic, one of DHCC’s most prestigious brands, last year shuttered its clinical practice.
In 2009, the city closed its outpatient care centre, Dubai Medical Suites (DMS), less than six months after its launch. The centre was intended to lure in foreign hospitals, which would offer visiting specialists and share the costs of funding the 20-clinic centre.
Medical services provider Gulf Healthcare International, which has headquarters in DHCC, said the city will need to attract high-profile brands if it is to capture part of the medical tourism market.
“It needs to have a few more marquee brands that are probably less under a brand licence but more under a proper JV so can you have local families partnering on a 50:50 basis with some of the world’s top healthcare operators,” said Mark Adams, CEO of GHI.
“The prize for DHCC would be to try and capture some of the $15bn of health tourism that leaves the region and it hasn’t captured that.”
DHCC had fallen short of its goal to become a healthcare hub, but the addition of a top oncology centre could help the city establish its brand, he said.
“I think it is fair to say the concept was brilliant but the execution less so,” said Adams.
“If you really had one of the best cancer organisations coming into Dubai Healthcare City… it would mean that if you lived in Saudi Arabia and you needed cancer care you wouldn’t be getting on a plane to the west you’d be coming to Dubai, which would be good for everybody.”
GHI said this month it plans to invest AED100m ($27m) in opening six branded clinics and acquiring 11 clinics aimed at lower-income patients.