DUBAI – The Ministry of Health in the UAE is at the forefront of developing the necessary infrastructure to attract medical tourists. That’s according to Nasser Khalifa Al-Budoor, the Assistant Undersecretary for International Relations and Health Affairs at the UAE Ministry of Health.

"We have a department here establishing this," he said. "We’ll be ready to start receiving patients coming here with their families, whether for plastic surgery, knee replacements or cardiovascular. We have so many hospitals, with John Hopkins, Harvard, some of the biggest names in the world are here doing work," he added.

Al-Budoor acknowledged that in the past the Middle East would never have been considered a destination for medical tourists, but the situation for the UAE had changed completely.

"People would go to London for shopping with their families and receive a check up or undergo a small operation. Now Dubai is ready for this," he said. "We have so much to offer now, with certified hospitals from international agencies," he added.

Health tourism is a global phenomenon that is allegedly worth $50 billion annually depending on who you talk to. The actual size of the industry is up for discussion. This is but one of many issues in an area of medicine that is attracting a huge amount of attention.

These issues are set to be discussed at the Healthcare Travel Exhibition & Congress 2008 to be held at the Al Bustan Rotana Hotel in Dubai from November 2-4. Sietske Meerloo, Marketing Manager at IIR Middle East indicated that the event is expected to provoke some heated debate.

"There are so many issues relating to medical tourism, and because the area is developing so quickly it’s becoming essential that hospitals, insurers and policy makers, to name a few work together closely to streamline processes to cater to this market," she said. "We’re expecting a great deal of debate at the event, and hopefully we’ll see some practical solutions adopted for many of these issues," she added.

Medical tourism is already proving to be highly competitive with developing nations offering cheap, quality healthcare. The Ministry of Health in the UAE believes it can find a niche in this market and has endorsed the Healthcare Travel Exhibition & Congress 2008 in which it’s participating.

"I’m really happy to see IIR [highlighting] medical tourism for the first time," Al-Budoor said. "We have so many hospitals ready to receive patients from abroad," he concluded.