Emigrant smokers could soon be offered free treatment at smoking cessation clinics operating under the Ministry of Health in a long-term plan that hopes to save millions for the government exchequer. The ministry is currently reviewing its policy of offering free treatment to locals only and expanding it to include expatriates, as well.
If all works well, the treatment could also be covered by the federal health insurance that is currently being drafted.
A senior official said on Tuesday that the decision to provide free treatment to locals had always been taken at the ministry level. “By including expatriates in the plan, millions of dirhams spent on treating chronic diseases resulting from tobacco use could be saved,” said Dr. Wedad Al Maidoor, head of the National Tobacco Control Committee at the ministry.
“The proposal has been submitted to the minister for approval,” she said.She also said that the committee had requested for the smoking cessation treatment to be covered by health insurance. “If this is covered, a person will not spend more than Dh2,000 for a 12-week treatment as compared to millions spent on treating diseases resulting from tobacco use,” explained Dr Wedad.
Treatment is free for UAE nationals, but expatriates are required to pay for the nicotine patches though consultation and follow-up treatment will be provided free of cost. Students are also treated free of cost. The patches that help in kicking the habit are available at the ministry’s primary healthcare and preventive medicine centres at subsidised rates. A patch at the ministry’s centre costs up to Dh50 for a one week treatment. Complete treatment could take up to 12 weeks. The patch is available for up to Dh100 in pharmacies.
Dr Mahmoud Fikri, Assistant Undersecretary for Health Policies and Legislation at the ministry said the step was a public health effort. “The cost of cancer will keep increasing … this is the most cost-effective method to help people quit smoking,” he said.
Dr Fikri was addressing a gathering of health officials from all sectors during an anti-smoking training workshop on nicotine addiction by the World Health Organisation’s regional office.
He also said the bylaws of the National Tobacco Law that had been passed a year ago were expected to be taken up by the Cabinet in a few weeks.
“This is the challenge we are readying for. Implementation of the law is the most difficult phase of legislation,” he said.