According to the Dubai Health Authority and the Dubai Statistics Centre, heart disease is the number one cause of death in Dubai.
The prevalence of cardiac diseases, particularly among young people throughout the UAE, has become a major public health concern, prompting government and private sector organizations to increase efforts to combat its rise through various awareness campaigns.
One of the major private sector players that have taken up this challenge is 200-year-old health services company Cigna.
This year, Cigna will be launching the Heart Your Heart, a CSR initiative dedicated to building awareness on heart health in the UAE. The three-year initiative will address the issue of preventive care in heart health, specifically high blood pressure.
Taking part in the launch will be Jason Sadler, Cigna’s President of International Markets, a 25-year industry veteran who has worked throughout the UK, Hong Kong, and Singapore.
In this interview with Forbes, Jason Sadler shares the state of heart health in the Middle East, and his company’s efforts combat the rise of heart disease.
How would you assess the current state of heart health in the MENA region?
Heart disease is Dubai’s biggest killer, responsible for 30% of deaths, according to the 2016 statistics from the Dubai Health Authority and Dubai Statistics Centre. People in the UAE suffer from heart attacks 20 years earlier than the global average age. Currently, over 30% of adults in the UAE battle with high blood pressure (HBP), with the numbers rising rapidly.
Recently, we conducted a nation-wide survey that revealed a low level of HBP awareness in the UAE, which is a key point of concern. Close to half of the respondents (44%) did not perceive the condition as potentially fatal. Furthermore, half of the respondents who do not suffer from HBP are not aware of the complexities caused by the condition.
The Cigna Heart Your Heart initiative was created to address this issue and support the UAE government’s mission to reduce cardiovascular diseases, raise awareness on heart health and educate residents to lead healthier lifestyles.
What can people do to improve their own heart health now?
The first, most crucial step is to build awareness about heart health, an important and high-prevailing aspect of which is HBP. Although widely known, the condition is not well understood. The primary mandate for medical providers and government authorities is to unite forces in creating an understanding of the condition. For individuals, the need is to take a proactive step towards their health and get regular check-ups.
We need to drive awareness of the fact that HBP is an asymptomatic condition. As we have understood from the survey we conducted, people do not get themselves checked for not having experienced any symptoms. Therefore, awareness and proactive initiative are required on the part of individuals to live healthier lives.
How can Heart Your Heart help improve awareness of heart disease for people in the UAE?
The Heart Your Heart initiative will be carried out in phases over three years.
In its first phase, the initiative will raise awareness about HBP or hypertension, through a range of outreach efforts. The survey is a part of this initiative to understand the current levels of awareness underlying causes for the high prevalence of HBP in the UAE.
We will also be partnering with the DHA to sponsor an educational session to initiate a dialogue with the medical fraternity, health providers, and insurance practitioners on the best practices in diagnosing and treating HBP.
Our objective with this activity is to connect with the physician community to implement global standard testing procedures and treatment of HBP. In addition, we want to connect with insurance practitioners to raise awareness on the best treatments plans.
We will also organize screenings to identify HBP incidence levels among the UAE population. Mobile HBP clinics will be set up at Cigna’s upcoming monthly Park Run events, as well as at select locations across the country for community screenings.
There is a gap in terms of awareness and action taken by people to reduce HBP. Through our work to raise awareness about being prepared and protected and encouraging positive lifestyle changes and offering preventive healthcare programs, we can reduce this gap.
Can you tell us about the state of the healthcare industry in the Middle East?
The healthcare industry in the Middle East, particularly the GCC, is growing at a fast pace. According to a healthcare industry report by Alpen Capital, the Current Healthcare Expenditure (CHE) in the GCC is projected to reach $104.6 billion in 2022, registering a CAGR of 6.6% from an estimated $76.1 billion in 2017.
An expanding population, high prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), rising cost of treatment and increasing penetration of health insurance are the factors contributing to growth in the sector.
The long-term strategies laid out by the government regulatory bodies has helped drive this growth and strengthen the sector to provide for the growing population. The rollout of mandatory health insurance in the UAE has been well-executed and had helped increase the utilization of medical services at private healthcare facilities.
What has been Cigna’s impact since entering the MENA and what is its strategy in establishing market leadership?
Cigna entered the Middle East market over 15 years ago and has built a strong foundation in the region. Multinational demographics, mandatory health insurance and government initiatives are very encouraging dynamics for private sector investors. The predominantly expat and globally mobile population presents a need for health services that provide borderless access.
As the business has grown in the Middle East, I’ve been involved in some really impactful projects and initiatives.
Very recently, I visited the Senses Residential and Day Care Centre together with my Middle East leadership team. This non-profit organisation provides residential care for children with special needs in the UAE and the Middle East. I was hugely impressed by their dedication and work and was delighted that Cigna was able to donate much-needed equipment which included a paediatric BP machine, first aid kits, and an AED machine.
Central to our strategy for growth in Middle East and beyond is our Go strategy. This strategy consists of Go Deeper, which helps expand and deepen relationships with our customers, clients and partners while increasing our depth in targeted sub-segments and geographies, Go Local, which will ensure that our products and services reflect and meet needs at a local market level, and finally Go Beyond, which means to innovate and further differentiate our business, the experiences that we deliver, and our overall social impact.
The very dynamic nature of the market creates lots of new challenges and opportunities. The optimism in the region really excites me so, regardless of the challenges, this is a key market where we are strongly invested in and where we see the possibility of even greater successes.
Do you have any advice for business leaders who are looking to grow in this increasingly crowded and competitive economy?
Today’s technology-driven environment has created previously unconceivable opportunities for radical thinkers, with the world rapidly progressing into an era of disruptive digital transformation. I would recommend new businesses to embrace digitization into their business philosophy and operations to excel and differentiate themselves in a competitive industry.
Social entrepreneurship is gaining momentum in the region with increasing cognizance and acceptance of purpose-driven and economically viable businesses that are also socially responsible. Businesses today can do well financially, while also doing good socially. This is another key aspect to imbue into your business while keeping the business relevant and solution oriented.
Fear is something that holds most radical thoughts from being realized into profitable businesses. But it is important to remember that without failure, there is no success. Be ready to fail, experiment, learn, implement and constantly innovate.
Finally, be patient. The new digital era has bought with it a need for instant gratification. Instead, focus the energy on solving problems that benefit the business as well as the society. Eventually, this will be a winning formula to success.