Genomic council set up

The Executive Committee of the Centre for Arab Genomic Studies (CAGS) in Dubai, UAE, has approved the formation of the Council of CAGS with the aim of developing the centre's activities, reports Khaleej Times.

The newly formed body includes 12 renowned human geneticists representing nine Arab countries including Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia.

Professor Najib Al Khaja, president of CAGS and secretary- general of Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Award for Medical Sciences, said: “Formation of the Council of CAGS complements the vision of Shaikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, sponsor of the Award and CAGS, who called for the alleviation of the burden imposed by genetic disorders in the UAE and the other Arab countries.”

Dr Mahmoud Taleb Al Ali, director of CAGS, was quoted in the newspaper as saying: “Members of the Council of CAGS were selected on the basis of their expertise in the field of human genetics, especially genetic disorders. It is with this Council that CAGS will be able to expand its framework of activities and make Dubai a melting pot where efforts of regional scientists will be joined to study human genetics.

“The current council may expand in the future to include other Arab countries not represented at present or to increase membership for the Arab countries with active research on human genetics,” he added. Dr Ghazi Omar Tadmouri, assistant director, CAGS, explained the practical impact of CAGS. “During 2005, we collected detailed information on 225 inherited disorders observed among nationals and the expatriate Arab population in the UAE.

The centre will soon finalise the publication of data; and the CTGA database will be an important world reference on genetic disorders in Arab populations.” According to the newspaper, the CTGA database includes a preliminary list of around 700 genetic disorders that have been described in Arab individuals. The most represented Arab countries in the database include: UAE (221 genetic disorders), Saudi Arabia (101), Tunisia (84), Lebanon (77), Morocco (68), Palestine (68), Egypt (55), and Kuwait (53).

Top lab

The American Hospital Dubai Laboratory has been awarded its third consecutive accreditation by the College of American Pathologists (CAP) making it the UAE’s only CAP accredited laboratory.

 “Without accurate pathology laboratory tests and the assessment of their results, there can be no accurate diagnosis of disease or effective treatment of patients,” Dr Aaron Han, Chief of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the American Hospital Dubai said in acknowledgement of the accreditation. CAP is the United States’ largest association for American Board Certified Laboratory Pathologists and the recognised world leader in laboratory quality assurance.

American Hospital Dubai’s (AHD) laboratory reports more than 250,000 test results a year for AHD patients, as well as for other area hospitals, clinics and physicians offices throughout the UAE. The CAP confirmed the accreditation following a comprehensive examination of the laboratory by a team of physician inspectors working with a checklist of over 3,000 quality control items, reviewing the laboratory’s policies and procedures, quality control procedures, equipment, facilities, safety programme and staff qualifications.

Dr Han described the CAP inspection and accreditation process as “very rigorous” and designed to ensure that there is a uniformly high standard of laboratory quality control to ensure the highest accuracy of testing for patients.

University hospital

Dubai-based Cedars-Jebel Ali International Hospital (Cedars-JAIH) in November announced the initiation of a university hospital in collaboration Klinikum Stuttgart, Teaching Hospital of the University of Tuebingen in Stuttgart, Baden Württemberg, Germany. 
The initiation was marked by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) by Dr Adnan Mohammad Kaddaha, chairman Cedars-JAIH, and Klaus-Peter Murawski, honourable major for General Administration & Hospital Management Municipality of Stuttgart. The MoU will see a university hospital, the first of its kind in Dubai, being established at Cedars-JAIH. The agreement will enable the exchange of doctors between the two institutions for educational and training purposes.

The university initially intends to establish and run the following at Cedars- JAIH:

- Post-graduate education and training according to the standards set by Klinikum Stuttgart

- A post-graduate nursing school

- A post-graduate technical training school for paramedical technicians in the field of radiology, laboratory technology and other biomedical and related technologies

The deal also includes an undertaking by the government of the State of Baden Württemberg to set up a  medical equipment industrial complex in the Jebel Ali Free Zone in Dubai, which will initially be a service and training centre and later will be developed into a manufacturing complex to serve the Middle East, Far East and North Africa.

The University Hospital will have 150 beds. Klinikum Stuttgart will provide specialists to ensure that the hospital is run at the high standards required for postgraduate training of its resident doctors and to prepare them for specialist postgraduate degrees. All patients at Cedars-JAIH who cannot be treated at the hospital will be referred to Klinikum Stuttgart.

Cedars-JAIH has served this sector of Dubai since 1999 as the Jebel Ali Medical Centre. In August 2004 it was officially launched as a hospital and now serves a rapidly expanding residential area, the Jebel Ali Free Zone and Jebel Ali Ports. As well as offering as a wide range of specialties, it provides 24-hour emergency services with ambulance services and helipad.

Basra health improves

An improvement in healthcare in southern Iraq has led to a noticeable decrease in seasonal diseases such as cholera and malaria, local doctors and health officials told IRIN news, late last year. “Last year [2004], we had many cases of cholera and other such diseases,” said Dr Ra'ad Salman, head of the health directorate in Basra.

“But this year [2005], thanks to improvements in the health sector, there were zero cases after August.” According to Dr Salman, most of the hospitals in and around the southern city of Basra, have been recently renovated and outfitted with new equipment. “There is no longer a shortage of medicine,” he said.

“Patients can get medication from the hospital without having to pay for it.” Based on studies conducted by Basra's health department, recorded cases of infection have been minimal in 2005. Only four cases of hepatitis were reported up to November last year, compared to more than 35 reported cases per month in 2004.

“The government and aid agencies have been doing a great job in the south,” Dr Salman noted. “There are no cases of polio, and our children are healthier.” Dr Ali Ameer of Basra’s al- Faiha'a General Hospital agreed, saying that medical shortages had been daily occurrences last year. Now, he said, the hospital’s facilities were fully equipped.

Dr Ameer added that hospital staff had also received training, while new employees had joined the ranks of the medical sector, given the better salaries now on offer. Nevertheless, expensive or uncommon medicine, such as that used for cancer treatment, remains relatively hard to get hold of. Generally, these can only be found in private pharmacies at prohibitively high costs.

“The cheapest cancer drug in our pharmacy is around US$50, so few people can afford it,” Dr Haydar Hussein, owner of a private drugstore in Basra, told IRIN. Public services, including the national health system, were severely disrupted following the imposition of UN sanctions on Iraq in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War.

During the sanctions era, many vital medicines and medical equipment became next to impossible to acquire. The situation worsened in the immediate aftermath of the US-led invasion of the country in 2003. “During Saddam’s reign, and after the last war, I had to wait more than five hours for a simple check-up,” said 52-year-old Basra resident Akram Mussa. “Today, it doesn’t take longer than 10 minutes.” Omar al-Bakar, a senior official at the heath ministry, however, said the dearth of medical equipment remained a major problem in the capital.

“For Baghdad residents, these problems persist,” he said. “And the lack of specialised professionals has exacerbated the dilemma.”

Youth speak out

Jordanian adolescents were given the chance in December to speak on local and satellite television channels about critical issues, related to World AIDS Day and ahead of International Children’s Day of Broadcasting.

Some 25 young people, aged 12 to 17, worked with UNICEF, in co-operation with the Jordanian government, to produce and broadcast a series of television programmes aimed at young audiences. Participants, came from the capital Amman and the city of Zarqa in the east of the country, researched, planned and produced a handful of shows focusing on contentious issues, such as HIV/AIDS and violence against children.

A portion of airtime was also devoted to lighter issues, such as sports. “It was a great experience,” said 16 year-old Amal al-Emlah. “We had the chance to express ourselves and speak about the problems we face.” Al-Emlah explained that she and other project participants researched cases related to abuse and neglect.

“We hope that we can help through our shows,” she added. The programme, called “Our Time has Come,” gave young people the chance “to say what they want, in the manner they want,” explained UNICEF spokesperson in Amman Hind Lara-Mango.

Equity fund targets region

American private equity fund Ascent is exploring opportunities to harness the Middle East’s healthcare technology industry to produce low-cost drugs and equipment for sale in Western markets.

The firm believes that the move could enable US firms to cut costs by as much as 50%. The Ascent Medical Technology Fund aims to invest in US companies developing advanced products and services who would transfer production to lowcost Middle East plants.

Ascent says that Jordan could produce pharmaceuticals while Oman was preferred for the manufacture of medical devices.

UAE’s smoke signals

The UAE’s recent decision to become a signatory to the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control could see a clampdown on smoking in public places in the UAE.

Signing up will mean national laws aimed at combating the ill-effects of smoking and could mean anything from a ban on tobacco advertising and higher taxes to the outlawing of smoking in public, according to health ministry officials. However, two years ago, a government ban on smoking in public places – initially in areas like shopping malls, but planned eventually to cover restaurants and clubs – was intro- ➤ duced only for the authorities to announce they would not enforce it.

Iraq corpses

Lack of space and a shortage of doctors to deal with corpses at Baghdad’s only mortuary is causing a delay in the release of bodies for burial, reports IRIN news.

“Insecurity in the country has affected our work and has caused a delay in the delivery of corpses to their families. A small number of staff and equipment has made things worse,” said director of the Forensic Medicine Institute (FMI) in the Ministry of Health, Dr Fa’aq Ameen. According to Dr Ameen, families cannot receive bodies before they are examined and a post mortem is carried out which takes at least 2-3 days, but this goes against the need for Muslims to bury their loved ones within 24 hours as stipulated in Islam.

“We receive over 1,600 corpses on a monthly basis and the huge number of bodies has resulted in a lack of space for them,” Dr Ameen continued. The doctor complained that 90% of the bodies that reached the mortuary every day were from terrorist attacks and that staff could not cope with the numbers.

“Our capacity for keeping corpses is up to 120. In emergency cases like explosions corpses have to be kept in hospital refrigerators until there is a free space,” he said. Dr Ameen warned of the possibility of disease if bodies remained without refrigeration for a long time. The anxious and traumatic wait is also devastating for families.

“This is my third visit to the mortuary this month. I have already lost two of my sons who were Iraqi National Guards (ING) at a check point attacked in southern Baghdad,” said Salem Ali, standing at the mortuary door weeping. “We brought my brother to the morgue after he suffered a heart attack in a hospital north of Baghdad and today is the second day that I am waiting for his body,” Jassim Kalaf lamented.

Unclaimed corpses cause further problems. “We were keeping unknown corpses for at least two months until their families were able to come and identify them during Saddam Hussein’s regime, but this procedure has changed now because there is not enough space for them,” Dr Ameen noted. “Now when we receive large numbers of unknown corpses with no family claim, we bury them within five days in the general cemetery with some descriptions about marks, age and cause of death in case of a relative’s claim,” he continued.

Oman medical complex

The Oman News Agency reports that a new health complex built at Saham in the northern Batinah region began healthcare services in mid December. The complex has various facilities including ENT, psychiatry, ophthalmology and diabetic clinics, Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Wahashi, director-general of health services in the northern Batinah region, said.

The RO1 million (US$2.5 million) health complex was due to be officially opened on 2 January, under the auspices of Salem bin Mohammed Al Nuaimi, undersecretary at the Ministry of Transport and Telecommunications.

Saudi nurses

Arab News reports that some 80 young Saudi girls have enrolled for the new graduate nursing programme developed at King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Center (KFSH&RC) in Riyadh.

This was announced by Dr Thelma van der Merwe, head of the Saudization and Diploma Programme at KFSH&RC at a function to felicitate Mollie Butler who has been awarded a PhD by the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa for her thesis: “A learning program for the continued development of nurses in Saudi Arabia”.. Butler, a Canadian, works as a nurse at KFSH.

Describing the response to the new nursing programme as “excellent”, Dr van der Merwe said a strong motivating factor was the attractive salary. According to official statistics, Saudis constitute less than 1% of the nursing profession in the kingdom. One of the main features of the programme is its flexibility.

This enables a Saudi nurse to exit the programme and yet remain employed at KFSH under a structured system based on Butler’s recommendation. Saudi nurses also have the option to pursue higher courses in leadership and management. “They are highly motivated in their desire to learn and improve their knowledge as they go along,” Dr Thelma noted.

Asked about the social stigma associated with Saudi women entering the nursing profession, she said they were gradually overcoming the problem.

UAE CME compulsory

As of January this year medical practitioners in the UAE will need to complete 50 hours of Continuous Medical Education (CME) per year. Failure to do so will result in their licence not being renewed, according to a report in the Khaleej Times newspaper.

The newspaper quoted Dr Abdul Ghaffar Al Hawi, assistant undersecretary for Curative Medicine in the Ministry of Health (MoH) as saying doctors would be required to do 50 hours of CME while nurses and other medical staff would be required to do 30 hours.

Dr Al Hawi said healthcare practitioners would be supplied electronic cards by the MoH which will be used to record their presence and duration of attendance at medical conferences.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

A leading physician in the region says Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), an intestinal disorder, is more prevalent in the Middle East than previously thought, but adds that new treatments are available to effectively manage the complaint.

One of the most common intestinal disorders, IBS is a long-term but manageable condition, which can cause a great deal of suffering to patients. The main symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are abdominal pain, bloating, irregular toilet habits and discomfort that occurs along with constipation or diarrhea.

The prevalence is thought to be 25% globally, with the number of reported cases in women three times that of men.

In the Middle East it is suspected that prevalence is much higher, but given that most symptoms are relatively mild, many patients never see a doctor for treatment, which makes it hard to account for total impact. Dr Suleimann Nayal, FRCP, FACG, a leading Gastro- Enterologist at the Polyclinic, Dubai, UAE, who has studied the condition in the region, says that more than 40 per cent of the patients at his clinic have IBS. There is no complete cure for IBS, but there are many ways of managing the condition.

“It depends on the symptoms,” explains Dr Nayal. “Some get better just by reassurance; they realise that they are not suffering from something more serious, and simply deal with the condition.” One treatment available within the Middle East is Zelmac by Novartis, a new drug that relieves the symptoms of IBS and makes the complaint more manageable.

Iraq fake drugs

The Iraqi Ministry of Health, in response to a reported rise in the sale of drugs on the black market, has launched a campaign to prevent the entry of illegal medicines into the country and halt the sale of expired pharmaceuticals.

“We have seen an increase in different kinds of drugs in the nation’s pharmacies, and most haven’t been checked for their side-effects and quality,” Ahmed Sarawi, a senior official at the Ministry of Health, told IRIN news late November. According to Sarawi, inspectors from the ministry have found dealers selling expired medicines on the streets of the capital Baghdad, having falsified their expiration dates.

“We analysed a sample and found it had expired two years ago,” Sarawi explained. “According to our information, many Iraqis have bought the drug from the same source.” During the Saddam- Hussein era, strict regulations governed the introduction of drugs into the country and there subsequent sale. All medicines had to be tested by the health ministry, which had to fully approve them before they could be sold by pharmacies. Stiff penalties were doled out to those found to be flouting the law.

The new campaign aims to regulate the sale of drugs and arrest anyone involved in dealing illicit or expired drugs. Lt-Col Abbas al-Khouri, chief inspector at the Ministry of Interior, said several people had been apprehended in connection with the sale of expired drugs on the streets of Baghdad. “Iraqis should help us by refusing to buy drugs from unknown sources just because they are cheaper,” Al-Khouri appealed.

Walking through Baghdad’s Bab Shorj district, youths can be seen peddling illegal medicines, often advertising them as remedies for ailments for which they are not intended. “It’s a good medicine for a headache, and it’s very cheap,” said one teenager, hawking his wares.

When an IRIN reporter asked for a closer look at the medicine, however, it was found to be Atenolol, generally prescribed to sufferers of hypertension. Despite being advised against it, one local woman bought the drug anyway. “I tried it before and it works,” she said. “Besides, it’s half the price of what they have at the pharmacy.”

Pharmacists in the capital agreed that there had been a recent increase in the entrance of illegal drugs into the country, which had found a ready market due to their lower prices. “I check the medicine first, and if it’s all right, I buy it,” said Dr Muthana Ibrahim, a pharmacist in the Mansour district. “On the black market, you can find it for less than the half of the price.”

The health ministry, however, has declared that any pharmacists found selling or buying unregulated medicines would be seriously punished. According to ministry sources, 18 people have died so far this year from the use of expired drugs, while at least another 150 cases of drug poisoning have been reported.

“People are dying and suffering from the side-effects of drugs entering the country illegally,” said Sarawi, vowing, “We will work hard to end this practice.”

Red Crystal

A diamond-shaped red crystal on a white background is to join the Red Cross and the Red Crescent as an emblem for ambulances and relief workers.

The Diplomatic Conference held in Geneva to adopt a Third Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions, creating an additional emblem alongside the red cross and red crescent of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The additional emblem, known as the red crystal, will provide a comprehensive and lasting solution to the emblem question.

It will appear as a red frame in the shape of a square on edge, on a white background, and is free from any religious, political or other connotation. The adoption of the new Protocol will pave the way for the full entry into the Movement of both Israel's Magen David Adom (MDA) and the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) following a signing of agreement between the two parties on 28 November.

With the adoption of the Protocol, the Standing Commission of the Red Cross and Red Crescent will call an International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 2006. The Conference brings together States party to the Geneva Conventions, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the 183 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the International Federation.

The Conference will be asked to amend the statutes of the Movement, to take into account the creation of the new emblem in order to realise the objective of universality.

Hospital accredited

The Zayed Military Hospital in Abu Dhabi, UAE, has been granted American Academy Accreditation in recognition of its distinguished quality of health services.

Brigadier Dr Ahmed Abdullah Abdul Rahman, director of Health Services at the hospital, told media: “This international recognition is a great boost for the hospital.” He said the accreditation would assist the hospital to become a training facility for medical graduates. He noted that the hospital had recently opened a tumour section that provides chemical and surgical therapy for cancer patients, and a diabetes clinic.

Brig Abdul Rahman revealed the hospital is intending to expand the heart and chest section, adding that over the past 10 months, the newly-inaugurated cardiology section conducted more than 200 successful heart surgeries.

Tehran smog

The Iranian capital, Tehran has been blanketed by a thick cloud of smog forcing more than 1,600 people to seek treatment in hospitals, according to media reports in December last year.

Hospitals reported increased cases of heart attacks and respiratory problems and many residents complained of fatigue and headaches. The air pollution is believed to be caused by emissions from the more than three million cars in the capital, many of which don’t have modern exhaust filters.

When there is no wind the polluted air is trapped in the city by surrounding mountains. In an effort to reduce the smog cars are now only being allowed to enter the city on alternate days depending on whether their number plates start with an odd or even number.

New drugs import laws

The UAE Ministry of Health has warned foreign residents and visitors to the UAE against brining in narcotics and controlled drugs for medication purposes unless they have been approved by the UAE Ministry of Health and attested by relevant health authorities in the country of origin, Khaleej Times reported. Violation of these requirements may result in legal action.

Humaid Al Shamsi, assistant under-secretary of Pharmacy and Supplies Department at the ministry said: “Foreign residents and visitors should not bring medicines containing narcotics into the country without a prior approval from the Ministry of Health.

Anyone involved in such a case will be considered as a criminal case and referred to the Ministry of Interior to take legal action.” Psychotropic medicines can be brought by visitors and foreign residents to cover the duration of their stay in the country, he said.

They are not allowed to bring more than a one-month supply of the medication, he added. The official, however, said that a resident can import enough psychotropic medicine for more than a month, only if the medicine is not available in the UAE. And this also needs prior approval from the health ministry, he added.

“In all cases, a physician's letter or a copy of the prescription corresponding to the psychotropic medicine brought into the country, attested by health authorities in the country of origin is a must,” he said.

Medicines sent to the country via postal or courier service will not be released unless these requirements were fulfilled, he said. Al Shamsi said visitors to the UAE can bring into the country up to three-month supply of a non-psychotropic and non-narcotic medicine for their personal use provided they have a doctor's letter or a copy of the prescription attested by health authorities in the country of origin.


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