Being diagnosed with breast cancer is traumatic enough, however women around the UAE are also facing extortionate bills for treatment thanks to extremely basic health insurance cover.

The cost of chemotherapy in the Emirates starts from at least Dhs25,000 per session, rising to upwards of Dhs50,000 at pricier hospitals.

However the basic plans provided as part of UAE employees’ compulsory health insurance cover up to only Dhs150,000 in Dubai.

Abu Dhabi workers, however, are covered up to Dhs250,000.

With rounds of chemotherapy, surgery and/or radiotherapy, patients are looking at a shortfall of hundreds of thousands of dirhams that they must foot themselves.

In fact, says Brigitte Chemla, chief executive of insurance company Whealth International, residents need at least Dhs1 million of cover a year to cover any form of cancer.

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“Often women are left to fend for themselves because of a lack of health insurance,” Chemla, a breast cancer survivor herself, told The National. “I remember each session of chemotherapy cost Dhs55,000, and I had eight of them and a mastectomy. It was the full set.”

While Chemla’s treatment was covered by Dhs2 million from comprehensive cover with her insurer, many women are not as lucky.

The basic health insurance policy in Abu Dhabi costs employers Dhs600 a year, while a similar plan in Dubai costs employers Dhs700 a year.

That’s the lowest level of cover that companies are legally obliged to provide, however some employees – particularly those in higher-paid roles – may receive more comprehensive cover.

However even those women could be left fronting a bill, Dr Sawsan Al Madhi told The National, estimating that treating the disease could cost between Dhs250,000 to Dhs300,000 in the first year – or more for advanced cancer.

“This goes up depending on the hospital and breast cancer can take about five years to treat,” Al Madhi said.


Breast Cancer Awareness

The number of women diagnosed with the disease has grown 20 per cent over the last six years, a Dubai Health Authority study revealed in 2015.

Early treatment dramatically improves the odds of survival, so women are encouraged to self-examine or visit screening centres on a regular basis.

According to Dr Sally Norton, women should self-examine their breasts once a month.

“It is good to get into a regular habit and monthly checks mean that you will get to know what is normal for you so will be more confident in spotting any changes,” she said.

“Avoid the time around a period when your breasts are naturally more lumpy. There are many guides on self-checking – but soapy hands in the shower are good for detecting lumps and a check in front of a mirror with hands raised above your head and then on hips can help identify skin changes.”

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