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May 30, 2014: Computing Now

The Doctor Is In: UAE Making Significant Inroads in Utilizing Advanced Medical Technologies

Dr. Keith W. Vrbicky

The United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven states (Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al Qaiwain) formed in 1971, has grown over the past 15 years to become one of the Middle East's most important economic centers.

Concurrent with this phenomenal growth have been major advancements in the healthcare arena. In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the UAE ranked first in life expectancy in 2009 (78 years), had the lowest infant mortality rate and was ranked third in having the lowest adult mortality rate among other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.

According to global consulting/risk management firm Deloitte, total UAE healthcare spending has been rapidly increasing over the past few years, raising the sector's contribution to GDP from 2.8 percent to 3.4 percent, respectively. The UAE, says Deloitte, also ranks first in the number of JCI accredited (the Joint Commission is an independent, not-for-profit organization that evaluates and accredits healthcare organizations worldwide) facilities - 54 healthcare providers accredited including private, public hospitals, ambulatory care providers and one lab.

In recent years, noted Deloitte, the UAE has focused efforts on attracting prestigious private healthcare providers (such as Bumrungrad, the Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins, and Vamed) to the Emirates.

"In doing so, the government is improving the country's regulatory environment and capacity in addition to empowering and encouraging the development of Public Private Partnerships," added Deloitte.

Part and parcel in creating this extensive healthcare infrastructure have been advancements in various medical technologies.

It would take a multi-part series of posts (food for thought - may just do this!) to elaborate on these so here are a few examples you'll find rather interesting:

In Abu Dhabi, researchers at the ATIC-SRC Centre of Excellence for Energy Efficient Electronic Systems (ACE4S) are developing systems on chip (SoC) designs in tandem with micro-electromechanical systems (MEMs) that monitor the onset of heart attacks by looking at a patient's change in weight.

"We have sensors that will be integrated in the shoes, which give weight and balance information. This information will be processed in correlation with the medical knowledge to give indicators about the risk of a heart attack for the patient," said Ibrahim El Fadel, ACES4S co-director and a professor at Masdar Institute.

The National, Abu Dhabi's English language daily, also reported a few months ago that professors at the American University of Sharjah are looking at dental care with braces embedded with a chip that monitors the movement of the fixtures and will communicate with the dentist's office if any of them are separated from the teeth.

Yet another project in development – researchers from Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research are working on a non-invasive SoC that monitors glucose levels in diabetic patients to indicate when they may need an insulin injection. The International Diabetes Federation recently predicted there will be 60 million diabetics in the Middle East by 2030, up from 32.6 million in 2011.

Lastly, The National reported last fall that another project at Khalifa University (done in collaboration with the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at the Children's National Medical Center, Washington, DC) involves a low-cost home fetal heart monitoring device. The device uses a driver installed on a mobile phone; acoustic sensors plugged into the phone's sound card are placed on the mother's abdomen. The research is being funded by a Khalifa University grant and from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Look for the UAE to continue to develop cutting-edge research in medical technologies – and you'll also be able to read about it right here!

If you have any questions or comments, please contact me at kwvrbicky@aetmedical.net.

Return to: 2014 Feature Stories