With Harvard, it'll be Healthcare City

Model of planned Harvard University Medical Center in Dubai.

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KAI RYSSDAL: It's easy, when you're here in the middle of it, to talk about Dubai like it's a country all by itself. It's not, of course. Its just one city in the United Arab Emirates. But in a way Dubai is a lot of cities. New developments here have been divided up into tax-free, regulation-free zones each with their own neighborhoody names.

Broadcasters are in Media City. Internet companies are clustered in Internet City. There's going to be a Sports City soon. The model extends to all things medical, too. Healthcare City is shelling out half a billion dollars to build Harvard Medical School Dubai.

Marketplace's Sean Cole grew up hanging around Harvard Square so we figured he was the guy for this one.


SEAN COLE: To be clear, Harvard Medical School isn't going to own any hospitals or teach undergrads in Dubai. It's running post-grad and research programs at Dubai Healthcare City. And the guy in charge has a really long title.

Robert Thurer: My name is Robert Thurer I am chief academic officer of the Harvard Medical School Dubai Center Institute for Post-Graduate Education and Research.

Doctor Thurer spends about half his time in Dubai. I caught him at his Boston office before I went over there. He says the development of healthcare is a key part of Dubai's plan to become the de-facto capital of the Middle East.

Thurer: You really can't have a world-class international city unless people feel comfortable traveling and relocating and everything. And health care is important.

But the economic benefit could be more direct than that too. Dubai Healthcare City is hoping to become a hub of "medical tourism." that is people flying to different countries for specialized care. Not to mention the fact that the government of the UAE covers health care for all of its citizens. So if an Emirati flies to, say, London for heart surgery.

Thurer: In addition to paying for that surgery I mean they're paying for the person and his family to fly to London they'll put up family in a hotel room. So it turns out that most of these expenditures are not directly related to health care.

Cole: Whereas when you're there they won't have to do that.

Thurer: Exactly. The major teaching hospital is in the excavation stage. It will be done in about three years. So you'll see a big hole in the ground that gets bigger every day.

OK, I'm now in Dubai, uh, standing at the construction site and, sure enough, it is a large hole.

Thurer: You'll be able to have a Starbucks.

Cole: Just like in Boston.

It's actually eerie how much Dubai feels like a North American city and how many American businesses are here.

Maher Musallam: There is a Citibank here. There is a Raffle Hotel here.

Maher Musallam showed me a room-sized table-top model of Healthcare City and the area around it.

Musallam: There is a Grand Cineplex. There is a Grand Hyatt. And there is big huge park here for children they call it the child city.

Musallam was part of the Dubai Healthcare City sales team. He says a lot of really famous organizations have bought into the project.

Musallam: Mayo Clinic. We have Astro Zeneca. We have American Academy of Plastic Surgery. We have big, big, big names in Dubai Healthcare City.

And big names spell credibility. Dubai is all about being number one. Even Abu Nader, a local investor who'll be running a convenience store, beauty salon and travel agency in Healthcare City, is banking on big returns.

Abu Nader: Of course! Maybe as per his highness Sheikh Mohammad, the wise president and ruler of Dubai. He's always looking to be number one.

Cole: And are you also looking to be number one?

Nader: Of course I want to be number one in Dubai Healthcare City!

Musallam: That's why he's part of us.

It's really sheikh Mohammad that conceived of the whole theme-parky structure of Dubai. Healthcare City included.

Mudhadditha Al Hashimi: I would say it's a theme park. I really, I wanna say it's a destination.

Mudhadditha al Hashimi is the CEO of Healthcare City.

Al Hashimi: Like you would go to Disney for example, although it's not the right comparison. But you would go into Disney and you would feel that all your steps in Disney is all so well-thought through. That's what we want to do in Dubai Healthcare City.

And why ask for Harvard's help?

Al Hashimi: I don't think we found any other academic institution with the reputation that Harvard has to match the reputation that Dubai Healthcare City wants.

Cole: It's quite a name.

Al Hashimi:Yes. Absolutely.

And both Al Hashimi and doctor Thurer said that Harvard would likely benefit from the relationship too. But doctor Thurer says there's a much larger goal as well.

Thurer: To improve the standing of the United States internationally.

Cole: Well that's very grand.

Thurer: Oh I think it's incumbent on all of us. I mean ultimately international relations is human relations and if we have, you know, lots of ways we can help other people in a positive thing it's
incumbent on us to do that.

For my part I intend to spend some more time in Dubai teaching Emiratis how to say "Hah-vahd." No I don't.

In Dubai, I'm Sean Cole for Marketplace.

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