Health conditions worsening among expatriates in UAE

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Health conditions worsening among expatriates in UAE

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is an attractive destination for expatriates. With a strong economy and high standard of living, many professionals from around the world live and work in the UAE, typically on fixed-term contracts. Short term lets and temporary housing are a popular choices for newly arrived immigrants, due to their convenience, abundance and cost-effectiveness. Many companies with a presence in the UAE will arrange health insurance for their employees prior to sending them overseas, but this has not appeared to have had an impact on cases of obesity throughout the region, according to Expatriate Healthcare.

A growing problem
The news source reports that many residents of the UAE could be considered overweight. Approximately 67 percent of men and 72 percent of women in the region are overweight, but health officials recently expressed concerns that the problem is spreading to expatriate workers living in the UAE on a temporary basis as well.

Doctors fear that if action is not taken soon, the obesity problem across the UAE could become the most significant health risk to expatriates in the next decade. Some experts worry that cases of obesity could triple in the same time period. If this becomes the case, obesity would surpass smoking as the leading serious, preventable health condition in the UAE. This could place a substantial burden on a healthcare system already in the process of adapting to increased numbers of expatriates living and working in the region.

Dr Fuad Ahmed, an obesity specialist, said that the combination of long hours often experienced in the UAE's working culture, a climate that deters foreigners from exercising, and the ready availability of junk food have contributed to the sharp increase in the number of overweight and obese expatriates. 

"The curse of this civilization is that we have stopped using our bodies and we eat too much," said Ahmed, as quoted by the news source. "If you go back 30 years, people were more dependent on their bodies. Now, in this civilization, [everyone] is on their bottoms. Cars everywhere, lifts everywhere."

Fighting the epidemic
Securing suitable health insurance can be a challenge for some expatriates. Although most companies will offer employees at least basic health insurance coverage as part of their contracts, specialists are often out of reach due to the additional costs and nature of the treatment. To combat this, a private health insurance company based in the U.K. recently introduced two new plans specifically designed for individuals living and working in Asia.

Insurance Business Review reports that Raffles Health Insurance, in partnership with private healthcare company Bupa International, will offer international professionals and expatriates a choice of two new plans to cover their healthcare needs in the Asia Pacific region. One of the packages will provide coverage for employees working specifically in Asian countries, while the other is tailored for workers in other parts of the world.

Officials at Bupa said the two plans were created to meet the needs of today's expatriate professionals and organizations with a global presence.

"With international businesses increasingly moving their Asia regional headquarters to Singapore, we expect the number of next generation expatriates in Singapore to continue to grow," said Wayne Close, managing director of Bupa International, as quoted by the news source. 

Although finding more permanent accommodation often tops the list of priorities for expatriates once they move into furnished apartments, they may want to consider taking care of themselves to avoid potential health complications further down the road. As the globalized economy continues to necessitate international relocation on a large scale, such precautions could become a vital part of living and working in the 21st century.