Demand for German healthcare expertise in GCC region


So, move over automobile giants and popular football clubs, Germany’s medical products and services are fast gaining traction in the Gulf region. Synergies are being built and opportunities being created to tap the potential of this vital sector. As stakeholders do their bit to make the industry more coherent, cooperation is increasing and so are business opportunities.

If the GCC countries are enhancing efforts to develop healthcare infrastructure and harness latest technologies, German firms and government bodies have raised their level of interest, too. This was evident in the Arab Health meet this year where as many as 277 German exhibitors took part.

While the Gulf region’s growing need for enhanced and expanded medical care needs has triggered this phenomenon, it has been aided by the German federal government’s three-pronged strategy to shape global health and be part of collective action in this domain. “We seek to embrace responsibility in global health policy by providing German experience, expertise and funding to improve global health…We seek to fulfill our international obligations and help our partners to establish sustainably financed and socially equitable health systems,” according to its strategy document.

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To begin with, Germany comes with the reputation of being a reliable export nation. German products and know-how have been active for a long time in the Gulf region. Europe’s biggest economy has maintained good relations with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and the ongoing massive investments in different sectors in the GCC also have a compelling effect back home. The same goes for the European nation’s healthcare management industry, which has a broad portfolio and is famous for offering outstanding quality and standards.

Cost and effect

“The German healthcare industry provides a very good balance between cost and effect,” Kirsten Staab of the Healthcare Industry Service Centre (HISC) puts things in perspective. According to Staab, increasing rates of chronic diseases and rising cost pressure on local healthcare systems are compelling service providers to look at alternatives in Asia or Eastern Europe. HISC is a joint initiative funded by the Hamburg Ministry of Health and Consumer Protection, Norgenta North German Life Sciences Agency and the European Social Fund and connects the expertise of Northern Germany with the GCC region.

Established two years ago, the centre, under Kirsten Staab’s stewardship, was integrated into the representative office of the Free Hanseatic City of Hamburg in Dubai. It functions as the first local contact point for healthcare industry companies, organizations and professionals from North Germany that are keen to set up shop in the GCC. It has triggered positive results too, particularly in the small and medium enterprises segment that requires greater orientation and support while entering the Gulf markets.

“In line with the ongoing positive exchange with its Arab partners, German engagement in the Gulf is continuing its good development and consistent growth in terms of technology, products, operations and services,” says Staab. According to her, another important area that will be interesting to watch in the future is education and training of local healthcare professionals in Germany and/or through exchange programmes in the GCC.

Staab is aware of the general shortage of qualified medical personnel, which makes Germany’s interest in the Gulf region even more relevant. “Against the background of GCC-wide efforts to consistently develop more own nationals into qualified top-positions and growing German involvement in the Gulf’s healthcare sectors, it makes sense to collaborate on German standard education and development for the GCC,” Staab says. Naturally, the echo for HISC has been very positive throughout the GCC and a number of projects are taking off with German participation.

Cooperation galore

For Khristo Ayad of Ayad|Liske Management & Legal Advisory, it all boils down to Germany being a knowledge-based economy, which breeds quality. Ayad quotes recent statistics by economic development agency – Germany Trade & Invest – which shows significant rise in exports, particularly to the GCC. “It is only logical that there is mutual interest in further engagement from and with Germany in the healthcare sector. German quality and know-how enjoys trust all over the world and a lot of patients from the GCC already travel to Germany for specialist treatment. Moreover, German equipment and German doctors can be found in every GCC country,” says Ayad.

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Quest for quality is evident in many a business partnership forged in recent times. DuBiotech, Dubai’s dedicated biotechnology and Research Park, announced earlier this year that Dr Brill & Partner GmbH, a German based Institute for hygiene and microbiology has established its first Middle East operating subsidiary at the free zone. As part of the move, the German firm will provide the region with high quality hygiene and microbiology consulting, training and laboratory services to assist the government’s drive to place public health and safety at the top of its priorities.

“There is high demand for quality healthcare due to the prevalence of diseases specific to the region such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. At Dr Brill & Partners, we focus on delivering qualitative consulting and training services with the aim of establishing the necessary healthcare standards specialized in infection prevention and control. Therefore, we established an Infection Control Accreditation Program, which is designed for the Middle East Region’s healthcare facilities such as hospitals, dental and veterinary clinics,” Dr Florian H.H. Brill, owner and managing director of Dr Brill & Partners said.

Last year, the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) hosted the 4thannual Arab Health Connect 2013 networking event, in partnership with Hamburg Chamber of Commerce and the HISC. Speaking on the occasion, DCCI Director General, Hamad Buamim, said that high per capita healthcare spending in Dubai is generating new investment opportunities, which the private sector can help address. This is where expertise from abroad fits in, leading to business propositions. He said that Dubai can fill the gaps in current provision working with Hamburg companies thanks to German expertise and experience in healthcare. “At the same time, Dubai is an excellent gateway for Hamburg companies seeking expansion into high-growth markets of the UAE, GCC, Middle East, and Africa,” Buamim said.

A deal was also reached last year between the Helios Endo Hospital of Hamburg with Dr Tarabichi’s Institute of Joint Surgery at Burjeel Hospital, Dubai. The agreement is designed to promote the skills of doctors and specialist personnel from the UAE as well as for scientific cooperation. Harry Glawe, the minister of economy and tourism for the German region of Mecklenburg West-Pomerania, signed another cooperation agreement between BioCon Valley – the initiative for life science and health management in Mecklenburg West-Pomerania – and representatives of the Emirate of Fujairah during the Arab Health 2013 exhibition and congress.

Several such deals have been struck elsewhere in the Gulf region too, going back several years. Qatar-based conglomerate Aamal Company last year signed an agreement to create a joint venture with Vivantes International Medicine, a hospital group in Germany, for building an outpatient medical centre in Doha. Back in 2009, a deal was reached between Germany-based Premedion GmbH and Qatar-based Al Jaidah Brothers, focusing on spa consulting and management, health tourism, medical wellness and prevention.

Its global outreach notwithstanding, the German healthcare sector has also been passing through major structural changes for quite some time now. Healthcare has traditionally not been perceived as commercial business sector in Germany but as a pillar of a healthy and functioning society. But as is the case around the world, things are changing. “Activities to internationally promote German medical technology, products and know-how are growing and the healthcare management industry has been identified to become one of the most important driving factors of German economy,” Ayad says.

Outstanding issues

It is difficult, however, to decipher whether there is a pattern to these developments and which segment of the market it is benefiting more. Staab says the attention is often focused on full-scale turnkey solutions, which can often be provided and realized only by large corporates and organisations. “This makes it less easy for SMEs to bring themselves in. German SMEs however, particularly in the healthcare management industry, are highly specialised and often at the root of new, breakthrough innovations,” says Staab.

One cannot yet conclude that everything is perfect in terms of regulation. Healthcare practitioners and suppliers from Germany, that are used to EU wide regulations, are often surprised about the different regulatory frames for obtaining licenses and approvals in different GCC countries. “The prerequisite of separate certificates for each country and different application requirements and procedures are causing delays and multiply setup and operating costs,” says Staab. For SMEs, this could be the difference between expanding into the Gulf or desisting from it.

“In the healthcare sector, a lack of alignment and cohesiveness in terms of standards, education and internal communication can cause serious operational and quality issues. It would be an improvement if existing accreditation requirements could be complemented with more compulsory internal training – and development efforts,” Staab says while highlighting the most pressing issues – GCC-wide unified regulations promises to immensely ease up market-entry. When those issues are addressed, there will be a win-win situation for end-users as well as service providers.

* This story first appeared in the May 2014 edition of bq magazine



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