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Prevention versus Treatment: An Imperative Need for Blue-Collar Workers

As healthcare gets more advanced, and the uptake for health-tech increases in practice rather than in theory, the fact of the matter remains that sophisticated healthcare services are often accessible only to the privileged few. In this context, Goal 3 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals says, “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages,” which seems like a distant dream. Frequently, it is a nation’s lowest-paid workers that bear the brunt of spiralling healthcare costs.

Taking Care of Blue-Collar Workers

Encouragingly, this doom-and-gloom scenario does not apply in the UAE. Over the past decade, a series of reforms has led to steadily improving conditions for the region’s blue-collar workers.

The UAE has approximately 5.5 million workers at the base of the pyramid, earning less than AED9,500 a year. The federal government and the Ministry of Health have long recognised the importance of this workforce to the growth and prosperity of the country.

Mandatory health insurance with the intention of providing even blue-collar workers with access to quality healthcare in a timely manner has been a landmark initiative. Underlying this regulation is the hypothesis that a healthy working population results in a healthy and productive business environment and a robust economy.

As primary breadwinners, blue-collar workers remit most of their earnings back to their home countries to pay for their families’ living expenses, education and healthcare. Therefore, mandatory healthcare offers invaluable support to these workers, who are already stressed about job security.

Common Health Issues

Advances in healthcare and technology are enabling healthcare professionals to proactively work on preventative measures that reduce the burden of disease as well as deliver an uptick in cost savings and employee productivity.

The data that has emerged on the sector over the last few months offers the potential to identify more efficient ways of safeguarding the health and well-being of blue-collar workers. The data points to a few common ailments affecting this segment of the community.  

1) Viral infections, such as chickenpox that starts much like the flu with fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, aches and pains, and headaches, commonly make an appearance. Chickenpox, like all infections, is contagious, and therefore proactive measures to spot, isolate and treat cases are critical to prevent the virus from spreading.

2) Eye infections and irritations are another regular complaint among labourers working in dusty and sandy environments that can severely affect the eyes. Infections can easily be transferred through rubbing the eyes and contact via machines and tools. Using protective eyewear, washing eyes periodically, as well as applying eye lubricants can reduce the incidence of such conditions.

3) Pre-diabetes glucose intolerance tends to be high among the working population, including the younger workforce. This can be attributed to the quality of the food the workers consume and the lack of exercise owing to their long work days.

4) Issues like high cholesterol, which can cause blockages in arteries, can also be mitigated through proper diet and exercise. Workers from Asian countries have narrower arteries, and the situation is compounded by the cultural diet and lifestyle choices that put this population at great risk of health complications.

Increasing Awareness

Employers can play a key role in improving employee health through providing access to sports facilities in residential labour camps. In the long run, this will significantly enhance the workers’ quality of life while reducing the cost burden on the healthcare system – benefiting the insurer, the employer and the workers themselves.

Organising health talks and video screenings, creating green spaces, facilitating access to exercise equipment in community areas, and reaching out to the workers through WhatsApp and SMS are prime examples of low-cost interventions that can help bring about lasting behavioural change with a positive impact on worker health while drastically cutting healthcare expenses.

Role of Private Sector

The private sector can play an important role in delivering preventive healthcare. Understanding the unique challenges and complexities facing blue-collar workers in the UAE and the wider region makes it possible to deliver innovative solutions. Recognising the potential, the government, employers, insurers and healthcare providers can collaborate on implementing cost-effective preventative measures.

Prevention leads to fewer hospital visits, better attendance records at work, managed insurance cost burden and improved ability of the workers to support themselves and their loved ones. Collectively, these interventions translate into a healthier, happier, more productive workforce and bring manifold benefits to businesses, insurers and the government.

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