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Definitely Dubai: Medical Tourism Changing Face of Healthcare in Desert

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Just short of a decade ago, Dr. Luiz Toledo decided to move his practice from Brazil to Dubai and cash in on an elevated demand for cosmetic procedures in the Arab desert.

If you think about 20 years ago, nobody heard about Dubai, Toledo, considered by many including the medical tourism patients from 73 countries he saw last year — to be among the top plastic surgeons in the world, told CTV News. And today, there is not a person in the world who hasn't heard about it.

Sometimes called the capital of excess in the Middle East, Dubai is changing the face of healthcare in the Gulf region. The city in the United Arab Emirates is looking to attract some 12.2 million international tourists this year, many of whom will be medical travel patients buying up discount wellness and preventative services offered through the Dubai Health Authority.

Renée-Marie Stephano, President of the Medical Tourism Association, said population growth, diverse lifestyles and the ensuing demand for healthcare services in Dubai are, in turn, fueling the appeal of medical tourism procedures and treatments including cosmetic procedures, cancer treatment and palliative care for patients abroad.

Renée-Marie Stephano, President of the Medical Tourism Association, said population growth, diverse lifestyles and the ensuing demand for healthcare services in Dubai are, in turn, fueling the appeal of medical tourism in the Gulf region.

Almost overnight, Dubai has become one of the top cities for expatriates and professionals to live and work, said Stephano, who is in Dubai this week to address the Role of Brand Awareness and Marketing Techniques at an international medical tourism forum.

To keep pace, Dubai is responding with an investment in private sector healthcare that will not only assist local communities, but also catalyze initiatives that drive medical tourism.

Rank and File

Stephano said the Medical Tourism Index, in which Dubai ranks 17thoverall, confirms the city's ongoing commitment to expand and capitalize on existing world-class health facilities and internationally accredited hospitals to lure medical travelers.

Any sustainable medical tourism strategy must follow strong regulatory guidance that commits to high standards of care and detailed attention to the patient experience, she said. Industry rankings can go a long way toward identifying areas of strength and weakness that can be of benefit to both healthcare provider and consumer seeking services.

The 2014 Medical Tourism Index, compiled through the International Healthcare Research Center, considered 30 countries about 60 percent of the world's population — from Africa, Asia, Central America, Middle East, South America and North America. Top destinations include Canada, ranked 1st overall; United Kingdom, 2nd; Israel, 3rd; Italy, 6th; South Korea, 11th; Spain, 12th; and Colombia, 16th. To register for a complete 2014 Medical Tourism Index, go to:

Bigger is Better

Dubai hopes to attract some 20 million visitors by 2020, in good measure by promoting its 2,518 medical facilities, 70 percent of which have gained international accreditation. To do so, economists say Dubai will require at least another $1.5 billion investment in new facilities; in part, to attract and retain professional talent in the private healthcare sector. To their credit, government officials are already working with the hospitality and travel industries to offer medical tourism packages that include renewable visas, and discounted hotel stays, airline tickets and wellness treatments.

If that's not enough, Vascilica Baltateanu, says everything else in Dubai that's big should be world's tallest building, highest fountain and largest saturation of plastic surgeons, and airport terminal within an eight-hour reach of 80 percent's on the world population and internationally renowned mall complete with shopping, spas and opulent hotels.

It's much safer in Dubai, said Baltateanu, who opened Vascilica Aesthetics, one of first plastic surgery consultancies in the UAE. I think (tourists) also choose Dubai because there are the best restaurants here, the best hotels. So, you do a surgery and, at the same time, you can have a nice holiday.

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