DUBAI // A medical tourism club for healthcare facilities has been set up to find ways to sustain medical tourism as the emirate bids to increase numbers to 500, order 000 each year by 2020.

Last year saw 135,000 medical tourists, up from 120,000 in 2013, according to Dubai Health Authority, and that number is expected to exceed 150,000 by the end of this year, estimates the consultant Colliers International.

The medical tourism club has united 24 health facilities to promote and develop the field in Dubai.

Each member facility must hit certain criteria to qualify, such as international accreditation and certifications, number of years in service in the region, number of beds and physician and nurse ratio.

Dr Layla Al Marzouqi, director of the DHA health regulation department and director of the Dubai medical tourism initiative, said: “While facility, physician and clinical requirements are essential to ensure quality and capability of health facilities, key hospitality requirements are needed to ensure medical tourists and their family members are comfortable.”

The new Prime Hospital in Garhoud is a member of the club and is offering bariatric surgery to help grossly obese patients.

Dr Jamil Ahmed, managing director of Prime Healthcare Group, was speaking about advancements in bariatric surgery ahead of the first International Surgical Gastroenterology Conference starting at the Le Meridien Hotel in Dubai on Thursday.

“We want to promote medical tourism and are working with the government towards that,” he said.

“There will be surgical specialists in the fields of bariatrics and transplants from Europe who will be speaking about this in detail at the conference.

“Once considered as a high risk procedure, gastric surgery is now as safe as common operations such as appendix removal and knee replacements.

“There is also a low complication rate. But bariatric surgery is not a cosmetic procedure, it is therapeutic. Obesity-related disease markedly improves after bariatric surgery, reduces cardiovascular risk and improves life expectancy.”

Dr Ahmed said obese patients would only be considered for surgery if they had already lost weight and made attempts to change poor lifestyle and eating habits.

The three-day conference will bring together 25 renowned specialist doctors and professors from across the world. Key topics will include scar-less procedures in gastro and bariatric surgery, which involves high-end equipment, and organ transplant.

Dr Dirar Ahmad Abdallah, medical director at Prime Hospital, said: “The patient will always be asked to reduce their weight before any surgery. A full investigation into their lifestyle habits and health will be done before any procedure.

“The UAE is in the top five countries in world for obesity and related health conditions. Because of this, we are expecting a new surge of patients requiring these kind of surgeries.”