InterviewsInnovation for a Healthy Planet: A Conversation with Saqr Al Hemeiri

Innovation for a Healthy Planet: A Conversation with Saqr Al Hemeiri

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Saqr Al Hemeiri, Chief Innovation Officer at the Ministry of Health And Prevention (MoHAP)-UAE, elucidates the confluence of sustainability and healthcare in an engaging conversation with MedEdge MEA. Stressing the critical role of innovation, he investigates a range of approaches, from promoting a flexible workforce in healthcare to personalized medicine, to guarantee long-lasting and easily accessible healthcare solutions for changing global concerns.

MedEdge MEA: How can innovation make healthcare more sustainable, considering climate change?

Saqr Al Hemeiri: Looking at healthcare and climate change, we observe a worldwide trend: healthcare stands as one of the largest contributors to the carbon footprint. Addressing this has posed a challenge for years. When considering reducing the carbon footprint, sustainability is paramount. Short-term interventions are insufficient; efforts must be ongoing and sustainable. The only viable approach is through innovation. Innovations in infrastructure, utility usage, and healthcare practices are essential. Sustainability in healthcare necessitates innovation as a critical component of the process.

MedEdge: What innovations can ensure affordable preventive care for an aging population?

Saqr Al Hemeiri: We have observed globally that numerous interventions come with significant costs. However, in many cases, these costs are not sustained, rendering the initiatives short-term and unsustainable for the healthcare system. This highlights the necessity for introducing inherently sustainable innovations, particularly in the United Arab Emirates where such conditions are imperative for acceptance.

In addressing the aging population, our focus lies in ensuring that these individuals are educated about their health and receive timely monitoring, placing greater emphasis on prevention rather than intervention. This approach aligns with our strategy to promote longevity among our patients. The aging population presents a significant challenge, particularly as the average age continues to rise annually.

MedEdge: Can personalized medicine be more sustainable with innovation?

Saqr Al Hemeiri: In the UAE, we have introduced the UAE Genome. Leveraging insights gleaned from similar projects in various countries, we have adapted this initiative to the UAE’s unique population, aiming to achieve comparable advancements. Many interventions stemming from this project, as well as others within the UAE, will drive innovation in personalized medicine.

Personalized medicine will heavily rely on the UAE Genome Project but will also incorporate additional inputs. We must continuously gather data from our patients to ensure that personalized medicine is not only personalized but also continually adjusted to each individual’s needs.

MedEdge: Beyond AI and telemedicine, what emerging innovations hold the biggest promise for sustainable healthcare?

Saqr Al Hemeiri: When it comes to the health sector, challenges abound. Thus, our focus is not on specific innovations but rather on enabling our healthcare system to respond innovatively to any emerging issue. The recent pandemic serves as a stark reminder of this necessity, as evidenced by the unique response in the U.K. Our longstanding efforts to cultivate a culture of innovation within the healthcare sector have yielded significant dividends.

During the pandemic, we witnessed dentists utilizing 3D printers to produce face covers and other essential items that were in short supply. Additionally, frontline workers devised and tested unique practices and protocols on the spot to safeguard both themselves and their patients, all under immense pressure. These outcomes are evidence to the concerted effort we have invested in promoting a culture of innovation within the healthcare sector, and we remain committed to sustaining and furthering this effort to ensure that innovation continues to drive progress.

MedEdge: How can healthcare innovation address the Middle East’s unique needs for sustainable practices?

Saqr Al Hemeiri: When considering the uniqueness of the Middle East, a multitude of challenges arise. Alongside the Genome Project I previously mentioned, one prominent challenge, which is both global and relatively new to the region, is the shortage of healthcare professionals. This shortage is recognized by organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO), and we are acutely aware of its impact.

The scarcity of healthcare workers has already begun to manifest in the Middle East. Many individuals of various nationalities view the region as a temporary stop before moving on to other countries, leading to high turnover rates. This turnover not only worsens the shortage but also increases costs within the healthcare sector. Addressing this issue is important.

Ensuring a sustainable and capable healthcare workforce in the Middle East is crucial for maintaining the quality of healthcare services. This challenge demands our focused attention to develop strategies that will effectively mitigate the shortage and ensure the continuity of quality care.

MedEdge: Your final message in the context of sustainable innovation?

Saqr Al Hemeiri: I believe my final message is that building healthcare workers with certain mentalities enabling them to continuously adapt to an ongoing changing environment in the healthcare sector is a must. Those who won’t be able to continuously change and adapt will fall out of the system, and we need every single healthcare worker available in the market today to possess future skills, with adaptability being the main one.

Part of adaptability is understanding that innovation is inherent to the work. It’s not a burden to add to one’s workload but rather a way of doing work and continuing it daily. We no longer expect to go to work and do the same thing as yesterday or the day before. We face completely new challenges every single day, and being dedicated to continuous and ongoing development is part of the healthcare sector. This dedication should extend not only to clinical skills but also to skills that enable us to adapt and benefit from innovation.

Also Read: “UAE becoming a role model internationally in combating non-communicable Diseases’’

Innovation is essential to sustainable healthcare because it addresses issues like aging populations and climate change. The MoHAP’s Chief Innovation Officer, Saqr Al Hemeiri, highlights the need for healthcare professionals to continuously adapt and to cultivate an innovative culture. Incorporating innovation as a fundamental component of healthcare practice, workforce sustainability, and personalized medicine are all essential for resilience in the face of changing obstacles and ongoing progress.

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