In a series of video interviews, 43-year-old Princess Haya speaks to Harper’s Bazaar Arabia editor-in-chief Louise Nichol about her passion for furthering healthcare in the UAE and beyond, the philanthropic instincts of her own children, and how she keeps Jalila, nine, and five-year-old Zayed away from their iPads.
“There are some women who are just a cut above, and it's fascinating to watch,” says Her Royal Highness Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein of the many doctors and nurses she encounters in her role as chairperson of Dubai Healthcare City.
Princess Haya’s passion for healthcare has its roots in the untimely passing of her mother, the late Queen Alia Al Hussein of Jordan, who was killed at the age of 28 in a helicopter accident on her way back from a hospital visit in the southern part of the country. “The fact that she died visiting a hospital and that she was trying to serve people… I wanted to grow up and do what my mum was trying to do,” says the princess, who was just three at the time of the tragedy. “I often went and visited the hospital she died at, in Tafileh. I'd always go and sit with the doctors, I think they realised that it was helping me psychologically to feel that I was doing something.”
In part one, the princess reveals how her daughter’s first ever illness was the impetus for opening Al Jalila Children’s Specialty Hospital in Dubai. “Her nose was running, and I panicked because it was my first child, and said, 'Sheikh Mohammed, where's the children's hospital?' and then we realised that there wasn't one,” remembers Princess Haya. Nine years later and the newly-opened Al Jalila Children’s Specialty Hospital is the first children’s hospital in the UAE. Named after her daughter Sheikha Jalila, who played a part in designing the interior with her father, and who is a frequent visitor to the facility, the hospital was inaugurated in November 2016. As Princess Haya tells Bazaar, she is proud of her children’s philanthropic instincts. “They do have a privileged life and others don't have it easy,” she says. “Jalila saw a picture of a man in South Sudan, who is starving. And then I saw that she'd written a letter to the World Food Programme and donated her life savings, which was 167 pounds and 26 pence, to the World Food Programme. So, I thought that was one way to start. It was a very, very good start.”
A young Princess Haya with her mother, the late Queen Alia of Jordan
In part two, Princess Haya discusses childhood obesity and how changing lifestyles present health challenges for the UAE population. “There needs to be a huge push to get kids back outdoors and interested in and in love with sports,” she tells Bazaar. “Genetically, it's just common sense that human beings were supposed to move at least 11 hours a day, and not sit and just move their fingers,” she says of the “one hour a day on your iPhone or your iPad” rule that she imposes at home. “It's really good to get them passionate about sports… the trick is finding which sport and what suits them best and making sure that it's something they enjoy rather than you enjoy,” says the princess, who represented Jordan in the 2000 Sydney Olympics in showjumping.
Watch Part 2 of Bazaar’s interview with HRH Princess Haya here:
In the final part of Bazaar’s interview with Princess Haya, the princess speaks about the role women play in the healthcare industry and also addresses the reasons that women themselves are often the last to seek medical intervention. “In the Arab world, and the world in general, women are probably the last people who actually admit to having a bad day, to not feeling quite well. There's this attitude that you have to push on and just keep going and they're generally the ones that we see last in a hospital looking for health help. I do think that there is more that can be done in areas such as breast cancer. This is something that we have to work on in the Arab world because there's this stigma that you feel you can't come forward and admit that maybe there's something you need to treat,” she says. While women might make reluctant patients, Princess Haya is incredibly proud of their role in the healthcare industry workforce. “Sometimes I spend hours behind the computer and go away in the evening and think, 'Okay, well I achieved quite a lot today'. Then you meet someone who’s a nurse and realise that they've put in a long shift they might have helped a family that are suffering from a loss, they might have helped save a life, and then you go and think, 'Well now, maybe I didn't achieve anything at all today.' That job is a real job,” she says. “I think nurses are extraordinary and the amount of excellent, incredible female doctors that we have now around the world is also something to be extraordinarily proud of.”
Read more in the September issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia