Dubai non-profit plans $1.1m shot to boost medical talent

Al Jalila Foundation will raise its scholarship scheme from AED3m to AED4m for Emiratis pursuing careers in the medical industry

A Dubai non-profit plans to invest AED4m ($1.1m) to 2015 in bursaries for the UAE’s brightest students in a bid to attract more Emiratis into the healthcare sector.

Al Jalila Foundation, which funds medical treatment, education and research in the UAE, will raise its scholarship scheme from AED3m to AED4m as it seeks to combat the paucity of nationals pursuing careers in the medical industry.

“We’ll take only the best,” said Dr Abdulkareem Al Olama, the foundation’s CEO. “The next academic year, we’ll increase the budget to AED4m. For [the UAE] to generate research, we need qualified doctors. We have to create a pool of scientists.”

Al Jalila last week unveiled the first beneficiaries of its scholarship fund; 17 postgraduate students selected from more than 40 applicants. The students, whose courses range from healthcare management to dentistry, will have their tuition fees met for the duration of the course.

Over time, the foundation hopes to enable hundreds of Emirati students to complete specialist training in fields of healthcare.

“There’s a huge gap not only in administration but also clinically in the UAE. Probably less than 4 per cent of healthcare staff are UAE nationals,” said Asma Al Khoori, 24, one of the first recipients of the funding, who is pursuing a master’s degree in healthcare management at the Dubai campus of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. “The work is tough in healthcare and the pay even less.”

The majority of this year’s cohort was female, a group of Emiratis who traditionally have fewer opportunities to study abroad. The scholarships are also a lifeline for those who would struggle to afford the high fees associated with postgraduate education. For Dr Noura Mohammed Juma, 29, in her first year of a three-year Masters in paediatric dentistry at Dubai School of Dental Medicine, the AED125,000-a-year course would otherwise be out of reach.

“For three years it would be impossible, especially with my responsibilities. I have two children,” she said. “But there is a need for speciality here. I believe that having paediatric dentistry in the UAE is a must.”

Al Jalila Foundation was launched last April by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the ruler of Dubai, and is named after his daughter. Its long-term goal is to create a permanent infrastructure of medical research in the emirate through scholarship funding and ties with leading foreign institutes, to place Dubai on a par with other global centres of medical excellence.

The foundation is in talks to partner with three overseas universities, Al Olama said, but declined to specify which institutes as discussions are at an early stage.

Funding has also been set aside for the foundation’s flagship Ta’alouf programme, which offers support and training to the parents of children with special needs. The first intake of 53 parents completed the 12-week course earlier this month.

Al Jalila surpassed its 2013 funding target of raising AED100m, and hopes to raise a further AED100m over the next five years. The second tranche of funding would enable it to establish a permanent endowment fund for its activities, said Al Olama. “We are 25 per cent there,” said Al Olama, adding that local donors are increasingly aware of the importance of investing in healthcare and research.

“Research is not easy. It takes time, but it is very important. We want to show [donors] the result of their investment in research and evidence of the impact we’re having.”

Of the foundation’s three areas of activity: research, education and treatment, the largest slice of funding – 70 per cent – is reserved for research. Its five-year strategy will see it support research efforts that target lifestyle diseases, namely obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disorders, diabetes and mental health.