The emirate of Dubai (UAE) has a population of over 4.6 million people, with one of the fastest growth rates in the world. The majority of the population - 4.4 million - are expatriates. But the coverage level of their mandatory basic health insurance is often insufficient to fund cancer treatments, which highly affects the 2.6 million low-income workers who often leave the country for treatment or palliative care.

We have partnered with the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) and the leading international health insurer AXA to develop a new compulsory funding scheme that covers screening and treatment for colorectal, breast and cervical cancers. The initiative provides comprehensive access for all expatriates in Dubai, importantly including those with low incomes.

In Dubai, all citizens are fully covered by the government-sponsored healthcare scheme, and expatriates have a mandatory health insurance purchased by their employers.

While the DHA has defined a minimum benefits package for expatriates , the coverage is not sufficient to pay for all cancer treatments. Expatriates who are not able to pay the remainder out of pocket are therefore excluded from accessing comprehensive cancer treatment.

In addition, cancer screening hasn’t been prioritized in the country, which along with a low level of cancer awareness means that diagnosis and therefore treatment very often come too late.

We entered into discussions with the DHA with the goal to improve access to diagnosis and treatment for the entire population . On the recommendation of the DHA, we worked with AXA to investigate innovative approaches of providing affordable cancer funding. As a result of this collaboration, AXA was able to develop a supplementary insurance coverage scheme for expatriates. With this approach, all insurance companies must now charge a small additional amount on the premium paid by employers for each employee, which is pooled into a central fund. The central fund is used to provide coverage for cancer treatment once the annual limit of the insurance plan is reached.

We also contributed to the development of national screening guidelines, and trained primary physicians and physicians employed by insurance companies on screening and cancer treatment pathways. We furthermore worked with the DHA to ensure that coverage for screening is mandated in all insurance policies in Dubai.

This new approach to cancer screening and treatment was enshrined in law and became effective in January 2018. The top-up funding scheme currently covers breast, colorectal and cervical cancer. It is expected to be expanded to to cover lung cancer and hematological malignancies.

As a result of the partnership between public and private sector stakeholders, all expatriates across the income spectrum are now able to access funding for cancer treatments.

His Excellency Humaid Al Qutami, Chairman of the Board and Director-General of the DHA, said: “In line with the vision of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the DHA aims to provide the highest quality of health services to everyone living in Dubai. In line with the vision 2021 plan, this initiative will help in early diagnosis as screening is now a part of the basic benefit plan, additionally, we will be able to provide financial and emotional support to patients suffering from these three types of cancer. This is possible because of the support of our partners, both government and private.

Furthermore, all Dubai residents will benefit from better screening and diagnosis, regardless of their insurance policy. This initiative has taken into account the future growth of the population and is accordingly ensured to be lasting.

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