Medical repatriation from Dubai (UAE)

The history of the UAE begins at the end of 18th century, when the Emirate of Abu Dhabi was founded, from which the clan of Al Maktoum separated in 1833, founding its own emirate, Dubai. It was originally a settlement on the Dubai Creek, a seawater inlet. In 1853, Britain became the protecting power of Dubai. In both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, pearl diving was the main source of income until 1930, when cultured pearls from Japan started to dominate the world market. However, Dubai had already established a thriving maritime trade with the surrounding states.  Oil was not produced in this region of the Middle East until 1966, and the UAE was founded in 1971.

Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai

Oil production revenues in the Emirate of Dubai fell from 50% of GDP in 1990 to just 5% in 2010. The oil reserves in Dubai are expected to be exhausted by the end of this decade. The autocratic Al Maktoum ruling family has attempted to counteract the effects of this with an unprecedented wave of investment in the construction sector, which continued until the global financial crisis of 2008. After that, construction activity slowed significantly. Only major projects were completed, such as the world's tallest building, the 828-metre Burj Khalifa.

But in the preceding years, the foundation stone had already been laid for an international hub for trade and tourism, with the construction of a huge international airport, one of the world's largest seaports and countless office buildings.  Today, Dubai has around 15 million visitors a year. Among them are many who come here on business or simply to shop, because if there is one city in the world that really showcases every brand name on earth, whether it's elegant designer jeans or 70-metre luxury yachts, it's Dubai.

But all the beautiful things in Dubai cannot prevent people from getting sick or having an accident and having to go to hospital for treatment. Therefore, it is important that an adequate health insurance policy be taken out before travelling to Dubai and that this health insurance includes the option of medical repatriation.

Will my insurance company pay for a medical repatriation from Dubai?

Some insurance companies leave themselves a convenient loophole when it comes to taking over the costs. In many cases, this consists of the term ‘medically necessary’ in the general terms and conditions. This means that the costs will be covered if the same medical standard does not exist in Dubai as in the patient’s home country, for example.

However, the private clinics in Dubai are excellently equipped and the state hospitals do not treat foreigners. Therefore, there is no medical necessity to transfer a patient from Dubai to their home country. However, if the terms and conditions state that a medical repatriation could be ‘medically reasonable’, i.e. if the patient’s self-healing capacity would be mobilised if they were transported to their home country, some insurance companies will cover the costs. It is important to check the small print before signing the insurance agreement.  

How is a medical repatriation from Dubai organised?

Ground ambulances are not designed for long distances, as a long journey by road could place unnecessary strain on the patient's health. However, ambulances are often used to transport patients to and from the airport.

There is no question that a medical repatriation from Dubai can only be undertaken by air. Anything else would take too long and would be too stressful for the patient.

Although helicopters are also aircraft, they are not suitable means of transport for patient repatriations. The distance of over 6000 kilometres as the crow flies to Central Europe, for example, would mean that the helicopter would have to be refuelled numerous times, which would be very stressful for the patient. Instead, helicopters are used in a similar way to ambulances, as ‘taxi’ vehicles to bring patients from the hospital to the airport and vice versa.

Ambulance flights in scheduled aircraft

The first realistic transport option is a flight on board a scheduled aircraft. Dubai International Airport is served by flights from virtually all major airports. If the patient's destination hospital is located in one of those cities, the medical repatriation can be carried out in a scheduled aircraft with the agreement of the respective airline.  However, for short-notice ambulance flights, a flight on a scheduled plane is not a practical option: Airlines usually require 1–2 days’ lead time.

Get back home quickly in an ambulance jet

In fact, an ambulance jet is the most flexible option: It is not subject to fixed take-off and landing times. It can be equipped to provide almost any type of medical care, including caring for patients. A Sea Level Flight with lung damage as well as for coma patients who need intensive care. An ambulance jet is just as fast as a passenger plane and, if necessary, it can land at small airports and airfields, which is also more cost-efficient.

Are medical repatriations easy to organise?

For companies like the Medical Air Service, it is not unusual to have to organise a medical repatriation from Dubai. However, it is never easy, because every patient transport is a completely individual matter, with its own special characteristics. Luckily, there are companies such as the Medical Air Service which have the appropriate experience and well-organised networks to ensure that medical repatriation is both quick and gentle for the patient.

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