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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Newborns should bring joy, not bankruptcy

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

© Shutterstock
© Shutterstock

Welcoming a new addition to the family marks one of the happiest moments in the lives of most couples. And those lucky enough to be resident in the United Arab Emirates feel confident in the knowledge that the nation’s medical facilities are second-to-none. Ours is a child-friendly country in every respect; it’s a place where children can grow up in a secure, multi-cultural environment and benefit from top notch educational and leisure facilities. But for some, the arrival of a new baby can turn into a debt-ridden nightmare threatening to tear the family apart. It’s a topic that’s been bothering me for some time and should be taken extremely seriously. I’ve brought it up with the authorities and now I feel compelled to raise this issue in the media.

I was recently distressed to learn the terrible plight of an expatriate friend of mine through no fault of his own. His wife gave birth to triplets prematurely which meant the babies were obliged to remain in incubators for six-months until they were fully formed. As if that experience wasn’t traumatic enough for the couple, who hoped and prayed for the day they could take three healthy babies home, they were landed with a hospital bill for neonatal care totaling AED 1.4 million (US$ 381,144)! That’s more than it costs to raise a child during the first 21 years of its life in the UK – in terms of food clothing, hobbies and education. According to a 2014 survey conducted by the Centre of Economic and Business Research (CEBR) bringing up a child sets parents back US$ 373,000.

What’s happening in our country? How many expatriates with an average salary of, say, AED 8,000 – AED 18,000, would be in a position to afford such outrageous, unexpected medical charges? Can it be right that an individual risks being criminalised for what is, after all, an unseen event, a force majeure that cannot be envisaged or budgeted for? How can the authorities expect an employed man to take care of his family in the UAE under these conditions? We must not forget that expatriates living and working in the Emirates are integral to the community contributing to its growth and success and, as such, the country should ensure there’s a safety net in place so that good people aren’t allowed to fall through the cracks.

Don’t imagine that my friend’s unfortunate experience is a one-off! In fact, a similar story hit the local headlines in 2012. As the Gulf News reported, first-time parents a Filipino draughtsman and his wife who worked as a secretary with an advertising agency, had just one premature baby, a boy they named Joseph, who remained hooked to a ventilator for 35 days. “Their joy turned to shock when they were told that it costs AED 3,900 per day to keep someone on a ventilator.”

With fees stacking-up to AED 135,500 (US$ 36.889), the only thing the scared father could do was appeal to the Filipino community and his friends on social media sites for help. Earlier this year, a Nigerian and a Filipino mother whose babies were premature were unable to take their newborns home due to hospital bills amounting to AED 80,000 (US$ 21,780) and AED 275,000 (US$ 73,508) respectively. Babies need to bond with their mothers; they need the love and nurturing that only a mother can provide. Instead, they are being detained as collateral.

Responsible hardworking couples, wishing only for the smile of a child to bless their home, do not deserve to be treated this way – and especially not in one of the wealthiest countries on the planet that constantly strives to be the best. We’re rightly proud of our world-class infrastructure and enviable lifestyles but when we reach for the stars we must take everyone along with us. Emiratis are by nature a compassionate people, guided by our faith and culture to stand with those in trouble. Our society should reflect those innate traits in all aspects and not permit greed to cast a stain on the UAE’s reputation.

I understand that hospitals need to make a profit but there’s a fine line between profit and exploitation. It’s my sincere hope that nobody else in the UAE has to suffer in the same way that my friend and so many others have ever again. New parents should be congratulated, not punished. And so I would appeal to the Ministry of Health to regulate public and private hospital fees and study the possibility of setting-up a fund so that no baby begins life as a hostage.

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