Nurtured by government-led initiatives, healthcare technology companies have helped establish the UAE as a leader in advancing healthcare in the Middle East and North Africa, fueling economic activity in the country in the process.
Globally, investment in healthcare-related technology is on the rise, a trend that was established well before the COVID-19 crisis. In 2018, 186 healthcare companies went public worldwide, according to mergers and acquisitions consultancy Hampleton Partners. This year In the Middle East, healthcare technology sales are set to reach an annual value of US$11 billion, according to the Middle East Medical Devices and Diagnostics Trade Association.
While much of the UAE’s startup activity is centered around Dubai, in May 2020, Plug and Play, the Abu Dhabi-based startup ecosystem, partnered with the emirate’s department of health to establish a dedicated healthcare startup accelerator aptly named Health Plug and Play MENA. Having welcomed its second cohort into the program earlier this year, Health Plug and Play MENA aims to support health technology start-ups and improve healthcare offerings in the UAE and beyond.
Though recent developments have certainly accelerated progress, the UAE has been on the road to becoming a regional healthcare hub for years. Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC), launched in 2002, was intended to provide high-end healthcare services as well as development opportunities to foreign investors. DHCC now hosts more than 100 clinics and hospitals and has developed a wide range of education, research, pharmaceutical, medical equipment, and general wellness and healthcare initiatives.
The UAE has mandated compulsory healthcare for all residents and Dubai has worked to develop a strong medical tourism industry off the back of the DHCC. The government of Dubai coordinates healthcare for UAE nationals while foreigners are required to have some sort of private plan. Foreign patients generate more than a billion dirhams (US$272.2 million) a year in treatment fees in Dubai.
Here below is a sample cross-section of UAE-based, healthcare technology companies that are utilising emerging tech to deliver cost-efficient, accessible healthcare services locally, regionally and globally.
Year founded: 2010
CEO: Jalil Allabadi
What they do: Altibbi is the largest digital health platform in the Arab world, hosting 1.5 million pages of medical content and offering users a 24/7 telehealth service. Launched in 2010, the platform provides tools and information that allow customers to access health advice at any time from any location using its website and apps. The platform is subscription-based and users can pay a monthly fee for unlimited access to live consultations with doctors via their mobile devices.
Why they are a healthcare technology company to watch: Altibbi also enables doctors and other medical professionals to build an online community, connecting them with colleagues across the country and hosting their resumes and profiles online. It boasts more than 250,000 unique visitors each day and 40,000 queries from users every month and has so far raised about US$8.5 million in venture capital funding.
Year founded: 2018
CEO: Wassim Merheby
What they do: Dhoner Healthcare is a Dubai-based startup that focuses on global healthcare blockchain services. Earlier this year, the Dubai Ministry of Health and Prevention partnered with Dhoner Health to provide safe organ donation procedures and have started to register users onto the Dhoner platform.
Why they are a healthcare technology company to watch: The second phase of the project involves setting standards to improve the matching of organs with patients, organ verification and transplant optimisation using artificial intelligence and blockchain technologies. The company claims hospitals will be able to verify that the DNA of the organ they have matches the DNA information of an organ donor on the blockchain, eradicating organ trafficking across the UAE. In 2019, national telco du announced the debut of the UAE’s first health sector-related BPaaS (blockchain platform as a service) solution in conjunction with Dhoner Healthtech.
Year founded: 2017
CEO: Fodhil Benturquia
What they do: Okadoc is a provider-search and appointment-booking platform that allows patients to search for healthcare providers based on their specialization, location, and insurance provider. Users can cancel, book and reschedule their appointments, as well as schedule appointment reminders.
Why they are a healthcare technology company to watch: One of the first healthcare booking platforms to offer instant online booking, Okadoc has raised a total of US$12.3M in funding thus far, including major support from the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.
Year founded: 2019
Headquarters: Abu Dhabi
CEO: Hasna Ahmed
What they do: DoctorsAE allows users to not only search for doctors and healthcare providers through their online platform, but also provides patients with the ability to contact medical care centers and hospitals for consultation through the app itself.
Why they are a healthcare technology company to watch: While there are digital databases of healthcare providers to choose from, DoctorsAE is unique in that the platform can be used to reach out to healthcare providers for timely consultation. DoctorsAE is also free to use, and provides search results in both English and Arabic.
Year founded: 2020
Headquarters: Abu Dhabi
Founder: Khawla Hammad
What they do: Takalam offers a mental health app that allows users to connect with qualified counselors through a private and personalized platform. The platform allows users to communicate in a variety of ways, including video, audio, and instant messaging. Moreover, users can choose to remain anonymous, further lowering boundaries and access to mental-health care.
Why they are a healthcare technology company to watch: Mental health has long been kept on the back-burner in the Middle East. Talakam aims to “break the cultural stigma” around mental health in the region using varied forms of computer-mediated counseling that are designed to meet patients where they are most comfortable.
Year founded: 2014
Headquarters: Singapore (formerly Dubai)
Founders: Aschkan Abdul-Malek, Sajjad Kamal
What they do: AlemHealth is a diagnostic telemedicine-services provider that connects hospitals in developing nations to a global network of diagnostic imaging, pathology, and specialist consultation services. The company acts in partnership with donors, public and private agencies, global telecommunications companies, and health ministries to ensure healthcare services are globally accessible.
Why they are a healthcare technology company to watch: AlemHealth has board-certified physicians in the US, EU, and India on its platform and counts breast-cancer, diabetic retinopathy and telecardiology screening amongst its services. AlemHealth also builds data portals for providers and agencies and helps to train medical workers in countries that have a shortage of healthcare professionals.
(Additional reporting by Annie Bricker.)