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Dr Zulekha Daud, Chairperson at Zulekha Healthcare Group

A girl born in the family of a construction worker, studied medicine with a dream of becoming a doctor. Fulfilling that dream, she became the first Indian female doctor in UAE. Creating her own destiny, she started working in the sweltering desert to provide medical aid to people in need. Today she is recognized as one of the most inspiring women entrepreneurs in the UAE, affectionately known as Mama Zulekha.

Dr Zulekha Daud established the first Zulekha Hospital in 1992 and presently, is the Chairperson of Zulekha Healthcare Group – a group having several super-specialty hospitals in Dubai and Sharjah.

From working tirelessly towards the welfare of Emiratis when healthcare sector was limited only for men, to the establishment of a prodigious private healthcare group, Zulekha’s remarkable journey is an inspiration for the young generations.

In an interview with Insights Care, Dr Zulekha sheds light on her journey in the medical field, the inception of Zulekha Group, and the future aspects of healthcare industry. Below are the highlights of the interview:

Dr Zulekha, please give us a brief overview of your journey as the Founder and Chairperson of Zulekha Healthcare Group and also tell us what inspired you to venture into the healthcare industry.

I came to the UAE in the year 1963 with intent of helping people in need. Those days were difficult, when we had no access to one place from another, except through the scorching dessert, at times in a car and sometimes by walk. I kept seeing the medical needs of people and being the first and only female doctor available to everyone, people came from far off areas to meet me in Sharjah, which was my first residential Emirate and is home to me till date.

I was inspired by the need of people around me to give them a facility that would enable the best of healthcare right here, in their own country. My mother has been a great inspiration all through my life and she always believed that I will succeed and use my skills to help the people in need, and so, I did with my first step of setting up a clinic in Sharjah.

With the benevolent support from the rulers and confidence instilled by the IFC in our capabilities, we have been able to expand operations in the Emirate, and also expand to Dubai and India with hospitals, clinics and pharmacies. We grow responsibly and organically, ensuring inclusion of our people and resources in all our endeavours.

Tell us more about Zulekha Healthcare Group, its vision, and the key aspects of its stronghold in the healthcare space in the UAE.

The group has been in UAE for over 58 years now. Local residents have witnessed our growth, and many were delivered by me back then. The close association with the people of this country makes the brand name well-known. Their experiences with us have made us stronger. The healthcare authorities in UAE trust us with our expertise, business acumen and see us as a reliable healthcare partner, furthering the nation’s objective to enable UAE to be a destination of medical tourism for the globe, with high-risk management abilities and experienced clinicians.

Zulekha Hospital has received extensive recognition for its commitment towards quality care and sustainable business practices and received the prestigious Dubai Quality Award and Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum award for business excellence as well, with a commitment to providing high quality healthcare to patients and society.

Year on year we have grown and expanded operations to include the latest of the services involving homecare services launched this year. Our CSR campaigns are always long term and consistent in nature. For example, our cancer awareness programs that promote early detection and prevention of the disease through the year with multiple free screenings are as old as 10 years.

Thousands of lives are impacted each year and we stand out as a responsible brand for our communities for this reason. Our experts across multiple disciplines are highly skilled and constantly upscale their skillsets, ready to accept and manage difficult cases referred to us as a superhub for high-risk cases. Our aspiration is to be able to save lives and improve lifestyles despite the worst the patients would have gone through.

From a leadership perspective, what is your opinion on the impact of the pandemic on the global healthcare sector and how did you aid Zulekha Healthcare Group to overcome the challenges rooting from the pandemic?

COVID-19 had disrupted the global healthcare landscape and it had put forth the greatest challenges in time for all healthcare providers. Healthcare systems worldwide were being tested by the crisis. Countries struggled worldwide with limited infrastructure, skilled workforce, and medication. In the UAE, the country moved quickly to ensure the virus was mitigated, beginning a disinfection program in March, and making provisions of field hospitals to accommodate the growing numbers.

The pandemic has raised considerable interest in physical and mental wellbeing, which is set to continuously grow. Mental Health and Wellness organizations are increasingly seeing a rise in stress related disorders and urging individuals and organizations to seek professional help. This may be creating opportunities for more therapists to create support groups.

We also need to be mindful to cater to the most vulnerable group of our population – the elderly, and people of determination who are most likely to be affected by COVID-19. Senior citizens have been asked to stay indoors. This has led to further isolation for many older people, leading to concerns over other serious health issues such as heightened risk of cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases.

The healthcare providers need to be watchful, invest time in mining available data, making use of technological solutions, cross-training skilled workforce, establishing facilities that can cater to high-risk medical needs, ensuring adequate stock of medical equipment and medicines, and ultimately create a sustainable healthcare model that is ever ready to meet contingencies with minimal disturbances.

At Zulekha Hospital, we have worked together along with our courageous front-liners and ensured we stood together in the hardest times. We have come out stronger with learning. We vaccinated all our staff to ensure complete safety of them and the patients. Social distancing and hygiene protocols were strictly adhered to.

What is your opinion on the necessity for healthcare companies to align their offerings with newer technological developments, especially when it comes to catering to the ever-evolving healthcare needs?

New approaches to wellbeing are being thought through. Usage of health trackers, remote monitoring devices, and physical and mental wellbeing initiatives will open opportunities to wellness tourism. Likewise, tracking vitals, raising alarms, setting reminders on one’s fitness regimes are norms of the day. Technology plays a very important role here.

If given a chance, what is the one thing that you would change about the global healthcare industry?

The healthcare industry is versatile and cannot be uniformly seen worldwide. Demands are different in regions and provisions to meet those also depend on the economies. A globally unified patient records system can be one useful tool I would like to implement in order to ease patient care, second opinion facilities and ensure best of the treatment solutions to choose from.

As an established leader, what would be your advice to the budding entrepreneurs aspiring to venture into healthcare?

Budding entrepreneurs need to be focused and venture into any project only after thorough market research. Innovation is the key.