The UAE: Early Adopters of Cutting-Edge Medical Technology

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In some respects, is it perhaps the medtech sector that has most to be excited about in the UAE’s domestic market, given the country’s unrelenting enthusiasm for connected devices, the Internet of Things (IoT) and digital solutions. According to a recent study carried out by INSEAD in conjunction with the World Economic Forum, the UAE actually ranks as “the most high-tech and technologically astute country in the entire Middle East,” on the back of strong e-Government initiatives and a profound readiness on the part of the authorities to embrace ICT, robotics and machine learning.

 

“The UAE possesses the potential to become an important innovation hub,” reasons Merck’s Paolo Carli. “The local ICT sector is rapidly growing and digitalization requires a different style of infrastructure. Therefore, the UAE is certainly placing its efforts in the correct areas… If you cast your eyes around the world, the US can credibly lay claim to a perfect combination of brains, investments, and courage to innovate while Europe, to a certain extent, often does not project the requisite courage. However, at Merck we are calculating that the UAE is uniquely positioned to carve out its own niche in this part of the globe and set about riding the new wave of digitalization currently disrupting the life science industry,” he deduces.

 

Kyowa Kirin’s Myriam Hakim very much agrees. “In my opinion, the UAE is one of those rare places in the Middle East from where we will be able to procure data, at least in the near future, due to the country being so far advanced compared to any of its regional peers. The state not only boasts a strong and constantly evolving structure that is incredibly receptive to innovation, but you also get the impression that they’re well ahead of the game in the sense of realizing the value of sourcing local data and statistics within the region,” she believes.

 

Certainly, many examples abound of the Emirate’s enthusiastic absorption of disruptive technologies in healthcare from the use of AI to 3D bio-printing. Bayer, for example, recently announced a new collaboration with the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) to launch AI-powered health pods for full-body check-ups across government authorities in Dubai. “It’s a joint effort geared towards empowering citizens and residents by providing accessible solutions to take control of their own health and support their journey for better lifestyle, wellness and nutrition plans,” clarifies the company’s vice president Mohamed Galal.

 

This follows hot on the heels from the announcement of the successful completion of another AI-based proof of concept project that has generated considerable attention: namely the deployment of machine learning capabilities to swiftly and effectively detect diabetic retinopathy. The go-ahead has now been given to roll out the new tool to 13 primary healthcare centres and a number of state hospitals.

 

Meanwhile, the DHA has raised eyebrows for establishing five smart pharmacies within healthcare institutions around the city: two in Rashid Hospital, one in Dubai Hospital, one in Latifa Hospital and one in Nadd Al Hamar primary health centre. “These smart pharmacies dispense and prescribe medication through a unified barcoding system. They are operated via a robot that can store up to 35,000 medicines, prepare 12 prescriptions in a minute and dispense 8,000 medicines in an hour,” discloses His Excellency Humaid Al Qutami. Needless to say, the results have been impressive. “Our data is telling us that the smart pharmacies reduced the waiting time 2.6 minutes on average and increased the time allocated for explaining medication instructions to an average of 5.65 minutes. Overall processing times were condensed from 22.5 minutes on average in 2016, to only 7.9 minutes last year with the help of these new tools,” he reports.

 

So too has there been a concerted effort to apply 3D printing technology to the life science space. “We have already implemented 3D printing across our dentistry services and have harnessed patient-centric 3D printed models for complex surgeries. We have joined forces with the private sector to develop 3D printed prosthetics and are opening a new lab dedicated to this technology located within the DHA’s Innovation Center that provides medical professionals with patient-specific anatomical models, allowing them to conduct detailed pre-operative analysis and to improve patient communication. All these initiatives are in line with the vision of Dubai’s strategy to become a global 3D printing technology hub by 2030,” proudly proclaims Al Qutami.

 

Medtech MNCs are therefore increasingly finding the UAE to be not just a viable platform for managing regional exports, but a growing local market in its own right for medical equipment sales and one in which they can potentially sign agreements to install and service their own medical devices, as GE Healthcare has done. At the same time, they are likely to encounter technologically adroit Emirati clients that are voraciously pursuing the latest advancements in healthcare information technology, tech integrators such as IBM Watson Health, 3M, and Honeywell can all well attest.

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