Saudi may sue tobacco firms

Arab News reports (29 November) that the Saudi Ministry of Health has threatened to sue American and European tobacco companies that sell their products in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), for the deaths and diseases caused by smoking. Dr Hamad Al-Manie, Minister of Health, said he had met with tobacco companies and informed them of his intention to sue if they did not pay compensation. No figure for compensation was reported.

It is estimated Saudis spend some SR5 billion (about US$1.3 billion) a year on tobacco products. A royal decree was issued in KSA recently outlawing tobacco advertising and banning smoking in all government buildings. The health minister told the newspaper that antismoking clinics have been opened in various cities in the kingdom as part of the ministry’s efforts to encourage smokers to give up the bad habit.

Dr Abdullah Al-Baddah, the head of the ministry’s anti-smoking programme, said that Saudis inhale 40,000 tons of tobacco smoke annually in 15 billion cigarettes. He pointed out that Saudi Arabia ranks 23rd in the world for the percentage of its population that smokes.

Health tourism card

The world’s first medical tourism card was launched at the World Travel Market 2006 in London in November. The Oceanic HealthPlus (OHP) card was launched by Ambika Soni, India’s Minister of Tourism & Culture and can be used for premium healthcare by tourists travelling in the UAE, India, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

OHP is the brainchild of Oceanic HealthPlus, a subsidiary of Ocean Computers based in Dubai Internet City, and offers discounts on travel, hotel and other leisure facilities in addition to special packages on medical checkups at toprated hospitals.

“Tourists from around the world are beginning to realise the potential of modern and traditional medicine offered in the East,” said Prasad Manjali, general manager, Oceanic HealthPlus. “Hospitals and medical establishments in countries like India, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia have realised the potential of this niche market and have begun to tailor their services for these foreign visitors. The price advantage is, of course, a major selling point. The cost differential across the board is huge: only a tenth and sometimes even a sixteenth of the cost in the West.”

Welcare Eye Center

Dubai-based Welcare World Health Systems, in mid- December, opened the Welcare Eye Center in Dubai’s Healthcare City. The advanced centre offers a range of ophthalmology services including: general ophthalmology, cataract & refractive surgery, vitreoretinal services, glaucoma treatment, corneal surgery, squint correction & oculoplasty, neuro-ophthalmology, uveitis & ocularimmunology and more.

Managed by a panel of internationally recognised medical professionals, the Welcare Eye Center aims to provide high quality ophthalmology services to the UAE and the region. The clinic also offers the IntraLASIK and the LASIK refractive procedures for eye sight correction.

KSA approves HIV test kit

Medical Services International has received regulatory permission to sell its VScan HIV test kit in Saudi Arabia. Testing completed by regulatory agencies shows that the VScan test kit exceeds 99% accuracy in terms of sensitivity and specificity.

The company is currently negotiating several large orders with distributors in the Middle East. Market studies and information obtained from regulatory agencies shows that the market in the Middle East will exceed 1,000,000 test kits per year. The VScan rapid test kit is a single use, cost effective, easy to use, test for the screening of HIV1&2, Hepatitis B&C, tuberculosis, Dengue Fever, West Nile virus, syphilis, malaria and prostate cancer.

Afghanistan polio

In November, Afghanistan began its latest drive to vaccinate millions of children under five against the crippling polio virus, according to United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) officials.

The three-day campaign was the fifth in Afghanistan in 2006 and was launched by the Afghan Ministry of Public Health, with the support of the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Health Organisation, Rotary International and other partners, according to a report by IRIN.

The massive campaign involved 34,000 volunteers administering drops of polio vaccine to 7.2 million children across the country. Afghanistan, one of just four countries in the world where polio is endemic, saw the number of people suffering from the disease surge last year.

There were 29 confirmed polio cases in 2006, compared to only nine cases in 2005, according to the WHO in Kabul. Many new polio cases recorded last year were in southern Afghanistan, which is experiencing a deadly phase of Taliban-led violence. Officials say the deteriorating security situation in the south, which has hampered polio immunisation drives, has been the leading cause of an increase in the disease in the impoverished country.

Lebanon typhoid

Health experts in Lebanon reported that through October and November there were up to 30 suspected cases of seasonal typhoid fever in the country.

They said more were expected, according to a report by IRIN. “Of these, only 11 have been confirmed, but all are being closely monitored in hospital,” said Assaad Khoury, a department director in the Lebanese public health ministry. Initial cases were confirmed by the World Health Organisation’s Early Warning and Response System, a team of health experts set up for the prompt detection of disease outbreaks.

The majority of typhoid cases so far have been in children aged 11 to 16. Although typhoid fever is potentially deadly, Khoury said it was unlikely there would be any fatalities in Lebanon because the condition, if detected, is easily treated with antibiotics. The central authorities have also contacted hospitals and clinics across the country to warn them of the typhoid occurrences.

Pakistan drugs authority

There has been a mixed reaction in Pakistan to a government decision to establish a national drug regulatory authority (DRA) to standardise the quality of medicines and streamline their registration, according to IRIN.

“High prices, open sale of spurious and counterfeit drugs, blatant violation of laws and widespread prevalence of unethical practices are all there. And hence the need for an autonomous regulatory authority,” Dr Arshad Humayun, president of the Society of Family Physicians, told IRIN in November. The DRA, which has been in the planning phase for nearly two years, will be autonomous, the country’s health secretary, Syed Anwar Mahmood, said.

“Its establishment will consolidate and regulate enforcement of laws relating to drugs, medicines and medical devices,” he said. Mahmood said the DRA would promote access to drugs by the country’s poor.

“The DRA will ensure accessibility to quality, safe and efficacious drugs, medicines and medical devices to those in need,” he said. The South Asian country’s total drugs market is worth about US$1 billion and more than 400 pharmaceutical companies operate in Pakistan. According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) study, World Medicine Situation, Pakistanis spend 77% of their healthcare budgets on buying medicines.

But many consumers end up purchasing fake medicines or drugs that have not been properly tested or that have passed their sell-by date. Counterfeit drugs constitute 40% to 50% of all medicines available in the country, the Pakistan Medical Association’s secretary- general, Dr Qaiser Sajjad, told IRIN.

Despite the optimism not everyone thinks the new DRA will work. A consumer rights organisation said the proposed authority would simply further the interests of Pakistan’s powerful drug companies. “Setting up the DRA is eyewash that will institutionalise the interests of pharmaceutical companies by further weakening government’s control on prices and the quality of drugs,” Ayaz Kiani of the Network for Consumer Protection, said.

Jordan AIDS

Despite the low prevalence of AIDS in Jordan, the existence of vulnerable groups that could become infected with the virus and the difficulty in tracking them are the biggest challenges for the country’s new strategy on AIDS, a senior health official said.

“If we do not control high-risk groups such as sex workers, men having sex with other men and injecting drug users – which exist in Jordan, but are hidden – we might face an HIV epidemic in the future,” Dr Ali Ass’ad, secretarygeneral of the Ministry of Health and director of the National AIDS Programme, said during the launch of Jordan’s national strategy for AIDS at the end of November 2006.

Dr Ass’ad pointed out that so far no monitoring mechanism for those vulnerable groups has been effective. “The problem is that we do not know whether sex workers and homosexuals use the condoms we distribute to them or whether drug injecting users share syringes,” he said.

“That is why the activities of the new strategy will focus on trying to monitor those high-risk groups and in general look at the prevention aspects of HIV/AIDS,” he added. Since the first AIDS case appeared in Jordan in 1986, the country has registered a total of 485 reported cases, of which 169 were Jordanians.

Of the Jordanians, 76 have died and 93 are still alive, 44 of which are currently receiving antiretroviral therapy. In Jordan, antiretroviral therapy is provided to all HIV/AIDS sufferers free of charge in all of the country’s public hospitals, health officials said.

New cord blood bank

Future Health Technologies, a private cord blood stem cell bank based in the UK, has recently opened offices in Jeddah, Riyadh and Dubai.

The company specialises in the collection and storage of umbilical cord stem cells. Future Health has its own laboratories and storage facility in the UK.

It is the first private cord blood bank to hold full accreditation awarded by the UK’s Medicines Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) of the Department of Health. Cord blood collection is rapidly gaining significance around the world.

In the Middle East, Thalassemia Beta and Sickle Cell anaemia has a high prevalence and cord blood stem cells offer a potential treatment.

Diabetes in the UAE

Diabetes is set to become the norm for more than 65% of the UAE population by 2010 if prevention measures are not adopted with speed, according to Dr Maha Taysir Barakat, consultant endocrinologist and medical & research director at the recently established Abu Dhabi-based Imperial College London Diabetes Centre (ICLDC).

Speaking at a number of forums held in Abu Dhabi during the week of World Diabetes Day (November 14 2006), Dr Maha said that the disease is recognised as one of the world’s fastest growing debilitating illnesses. “In the UAE, it is estimated that more 20% of our population are living with diabetes.

With our population pegged to reach 12 million by 2010, this figure could hit 65% at the current growth rate of the disease.” Dr Maha stressed that while the figures are daunting, the landscape is not ‘all doom and gloom’. “Type 2 diabetes can be prevented and detected very early on, so we have every hope of being able to manage, and thus prevent, such huge increases in the numbers of diabetes sufferers,” she said.

She also stressed that even when diabetes is diagnosed, the latest treatment methods for the disease and its complications can ensure that it is managed.

DoHMS Bill of Rights

Dubai’s Department of Health and Medical Services (DoHMS) has issued a Patient and Family Bill of Rights and Responsibilites, including the right to receive immediate care in emergency cases, the right to an interpreter if language is a barrier to understanding and the right to refuse treatment.

The patient bill of rights guarantees some 27 rights and is published as a booklet in English and Arabic and is available at all DoHMS healthcare facilities. The booklet also outlines a number of responsibilities for patients such as respect for hospital rules, respect for the privacy of other patients and respect for priority given to emergency cases.

Qadi Saeed Al Murooshid, director-general of DoHMS, said the bill of rights was based on international recommendations from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organisation (JCAHO), which they adapted to suit the “cultural and religious values” of the UAE.

Emaar healthcare

Dubai-based Emaar Properties, one of the world’s largest global real estate companies, has appointed Omar Moawiyah Al Shunnar as executive director of Emaar Healthcare, the company’s healthcare subsidiary.

Emaar Healthcare has announced plans to invest Dhs18.35 billion (US$5 billion) in the sector. The company plans to develop and manage more than 100 hospitals in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and South Asian markets in the next 10 years. Among other positions, Al Shunnar has served as project manager of the development team that worked on the Dubai Healthcare City prior to its official launch and was later appointed to chief sales and marketing officer for the project.

Al Shunnar said: “Healthcare business is not driven by a simple demand and supply equation. What makes the true difference is quality — not just of the medical services provided but also of the infrastructure support offered. We have a clearly delineated development plan for the healthcare sector, which involves integrating advanced medical infrastructure in key centres.

Emaar Healthcare will also strike strategic partnerships with international specialists to set best practice standards in the region.” The healthcare market of MENA and South Asia, excluding medicine and pharmaceuticals, is currently estimated at $10 billion per annum. A recent United Nations report said most MENA and South Asian countries spend less than 5% of their GDP on public and private healthcare services.

“Emaar Healthcare will step in to meet this need for quality healthcare services through public and private sector partnerships,” added Al Shunnar.

Pakistan health alert

A health alert was triggered in quake-stricken Pakistani administered Kashmir in early December, after scores of children within a remote mountain village fell seriously ill with a suspected ‘water-borne’ disease, according to an IRIN report.

Distraught families from the village of Khania, Neelum Valley, contacted the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), claiming six infants had died within two days, with many more showing similar symptoms of vomiting and diarrhoea. Three IOM Rapid Response Teams (RRTs) were mobilised to the community of 5,000 people, lying more than 1,600 metres above the Neelum Valley, in a desperate bid to save lives.

The immediate fear was an outbreak of cholera. Following an immediate on-site assessment by RRT doctors, who screened 50 children within the first few hours, all were found to have diarrhoea and most were suffering the effects of pneumonia.

Five youngsters and their families were evacuated in IOM vehicles to the Abbas Institute of Medical Sciences (AIMS) in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir, more than 25km away. A further nine children were ferried to the hospital with support from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Dr Bashir-ur-Rehman, the hospital’s chief executive, confirmed 14 children between the ages of 12 months and three years had been admitted from Khania village suffering with gastric and respiratory conditions.

Eight youngsters were found to have moderate to severe pneumonia, half had acute chest infections, with half of those also suffering from gastroenteritis. All were expected to make a full recovery. “Rapid tests for cholera have been completed and shown to be negative,” he stressed, but added that the tests were not 100% conclusive. Samples had been sent for more detailed analysis to the capital Islamabad.

He blamed inadequate shelter and the severe weather in the mountains, adding: “It is related to the living conditions, the heavy rains and snowfalls of this early chill. I am not surprised.”

Some 70% of Khania’s 450 families are still living in tents, according to IOM, which has conducted assessments of high altitude villages across northern Pakistan, where more than 75,000 people were killed and some 3 million people rendered homeless when the 7.6 magnitude quake ripped through Pakistani administered Kashmir and the country’s North West Frontier Province on 8 October 2005.

Minister’s mammography

HE Sheikha Lubna Bint Khaled Al Qasimi, UAE Minister of Economy and Planning, has lent her support once again to the National Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign, by undergoing a mammography test in Sharjah in November.

The campaign was launched in the UAE in October by the Ministry of Health, the General Authority for Health Services for the Emirate of Abu Dhabi (GAHS), the Department of Health and Medical Services, Dubai (DoHMS), Hoffmann- La Roche and GE Healthcare. The minister did the test to set an example for local and expatriate women in the UAE and raise awareness on the importance of routine mammography testing in the fight against breast cancer.

She said she has had mammography exams for the past seven years and stressed that it was important that all women over the age of 40 have an annual mammography test as part of the their regular health check. “Breast cancer is a very real risk that most people would rather not address or think about.

In the UAE, most cases of breast cancer are detected at a late stage. It is important for women to understand that early detection can save lives,” she said. “Although the mammography test is a bit uncomfortable, it is the responsibility of every mother and every sister to think about the potential consequences of delaying the test. Unfortunately, ignoring a risk does not make it go away,” she explained.

Cardio action plan

Physicians and health authories attending the 3rd Partners International Cardiovascular Conference in Dubai have agreed a series of recommendations designed to reduce the impact of heart disease and related illnesses within the developing world.

Over 300 doctors were involved in the final session of the conference, which followed three-days of intensive discussion and analysis of what has been called “the largest health issue of our time”. The conference focused on both the treatment of patients already suffering from cardiovascular disease, and the risk factors across society that cause such illnesses. Among the recommendations were:

- Highlighting the importance of early and effective control of blood pressure, hyperlipidimea and diabetes;

- Developing measures to identify and treat other cardiovascular risk factors as early as possible including stress, obesity and smoking;

- Providing a special focus on the dangers of smoking as a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases and offering updates on the new treatment options to help people quit smoking;

- Encouraging exercise and life style modification across all sections of society, including smoking cessation and healthier diet. The conference also issued recommendations on improving treatment levels for patients suffering from cardiovascular illnesses.

These included:

- Emphasising the importance of controlling diabetes and highlighting the latest advances, like inhaled insulin therapy;

- Highlighting the results of the landmark five year study, ASCOT, one of the largest hypertension trials conducted, involving more than 19,000 patients, and which showed that adding Atorvastatin, the lipidlowering therapy, to Amlodipine-treated patients significantly reduced cardiac events and strokes in hypertensive patients with multiple cardiovascular risk factors.

Supported by an educational grant from Pfizer, the conference brought together leading experts in heart disease, including specialists from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Yemen, Algeria, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa and Turkey.

Sharjah holistic center

The Sharjah International Holistic Health Center – a first of its kind in the region – was opened in November by Sheikh Mohammed bin Saqr Al Qasimi, assistant undersecretary of the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Health, and director of the Sharjah Medical District.

Sharjah International Holistic Health Centre SIHHC) provides diagnosis and treatment using both traditional and alternative medicine. Sheikh Mohammed said: “The opening of Sharjah International Holistic Health Centre is a great opportunity to provide advanced medical services through a combination of traditional medicine, which depends on evidence and proof, and Alternative Medicine to access to the best medical results keeping in mind accuracy and medical honesty.”

SIHHC consists of a number of medical clinics including: Internal Medicine, which includes endoscopy and ultrasonography; paediatric medicine; general medicine; dentistry; clinical nutrition and dieting; as well as an Iridology Diagnostic Clinic, where specialists can identify weaknesses and strength in the human body by scanning the iris.

Dr Haiman Nahal, SIHHC general manager, said: “One of the most important reasons behind establishing SIHHC, is our desire to clarify the importance of holistic medicine as a term that combines different types of medicine, and to demonstrate the interrelationship between traditional and alternative medicine.

New Dubai hospital

Construction of the Dh100 million (US$27 million) premium general hospital – Med Care Hospital – in Jumeirah, Dubai, is complete and the new hospital is set to open its doors early this year.

“It is designed to bring world class healthcare to Jumeirah, Dubai and the wider region,” said Dr Sadik Kodakat, executive medical director of the hospital. He said the hospital will also supply much needed emergency services and maternity care to this part of the city.

The 60-bed Med Care Hospital takes advantage of the latest technologies.. “We’re working towards achieving a complete paperless system by June 2007,” said Dr Kodakat. He said the hospital is completely digitally networked with advanced telemedicine facilities, three interactive, digital ORs; and wireless Internet connectivity in all patient rooms.

Online digital imaging capabilities will enable physicians to examine medical images from any PC worldwide. The hospital has more than 30 specialties and aims to have centres of excellence in gastrointestinal care, urology and nephrology, advanced maternity care, and ENT. The multi-specialty centre has an advanced radiology department equipped with Open MRI, spiral multi-slice CT and 4D ultrasound.

The hospital will also have a lithotripsy facility, dialysis machines and an endoscopy suite, as well as it own labs, blood bank and pharmacy. The Emergency Department, with hi-tech ambulance, will operate around the clock. “We have a staff that is passionate about their work,” said Dr Kodakat, adding: “We intend to offer Eastern hospitality with Western professionalism.”

He said the hospital insists on mandatory Continuous Medical Education for all its physicians and this will be assessed in the annual appraisal. “Quality will follow ‘best practices’ and global healthcare standards,” he emphasised. The hospital is managed by Eurohealth Systems, a division of Dr Moopens Group, based at Dubai Healthcare City. Visit:

Osteoporosis warning

In a move to create greater awareness about the high incidence of osteoporosis in the Middle East, a number of doctors spoke publicly about the issue in Dubai in December.

They said that according to recent studies involving 2,821 postmenopausal women with osteoporosis, conducted by Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD), 81% of postmenopausal women in the Middle East are not getting enough vitamin D.

Dr Tarek Rahbani, MSD’s representative in the UAE, pointed out that studies have also shown that postmenopausal women taking vitamin D boosted their calcium absorption rates by up to 65%. “Without enough vitamin D to help absorb calcium, bones can become thin and be more likely to break.

This is one of the reasons why it is important for patients with osteoporosis to get enough vitamin D to help protect themselves against bone fractures.” Dr Abdul Rahman Al Suhaili, president of the Pan Arab Osteoporosis Society said: “‘This year a group of researchers supported by Shaikh Hamdan Awards published their study on UAE women between the age of 20 and 80 years and found that UAE women have low bone mass density and low levels of vitamin D.

They don’t exercise enough and eat less calcium rich diets than people in Asian and Mediterranean countries.” “There should be an action plan to fight osteoporosis through education of children, teachers and family members about this preventable disease,” he said Meanwhile, the UAE’s first Osteoporosis Society was established recently at a meeting in Dubai of 70 of the nations leading experts.

The Osteoporosis Society will function under the umbrella of the Emirates Medical Association and aims to improve awareness and treatment of the disease across the nation.

Al Qudra Healthcare

In a move that aims to establish Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, as a major hub for healthcare in the region, Al Qudra Holding along with regional investment leaders, National Holding, Injazat Capital and Saudi Health Investment Company launched Al Qudra Healthcare and Wellness Holding at the Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi in December.

The new holding company expects investments to reach Dh20 billion (US$5.4 billion) with in five years of operation. Al Qudra Healthcare and Wellness Holding intends to attract global players to Abu Dhabi with the development of services for hospital management, global research, health insurance and financial management related to the health sector.

The holding company also wants to establish a major network of hospitals in the MENA region, factories for medical supplies, and medical and nursing schools. “We are working hand in hand with government entities, the Ministry of Health in Abu Dhabi and other global leaders in the health industry to advance and upgrade the health services in the United Arab Emirates and the Middle East,” said Salah Salem Bin Omeir Al Shamsi, chairman and managing director, Al Qudra Holding. “The first project for Al Qudra Healthcare and Wellness will be establishing the Al Qudra General Hospital in Abu Dhabi,” he said.

Palestine aid appeal

In December United Nations agencies and NGOs launched a US$450 million emergency appeal for humanitarian aid for the Palestinians – the biggest-ever for the Palestinians and the thirdlargest in the world, according to IRIN.

So much money is needed because two-thirds of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have fallen into poverty, said Kevin Kennedy, the UN’s humanitarian co-ordinator. The international boycott on the Hamas-led Palestinian government has crippled the Palestinian economy. International donors say they will only give money directly to the Palestinian people if Hamas recognises Israel’s existence, renounces violence and abides by previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.

In addition to the international boycott, Israel has withheld an estimated $500 million in tax revenues from foreign and Israeli goods heading for the West Bank and Gaza, which it would normally hand over to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). “We have been compelled to launch a larger appeal in the face of the increased need among the Palestinian population,” said Kennedy.

“It is particularly aimed at assisting the most vulnerable Palestinians, including children, who make up about half of the population.” Because of the freeze, the PNA, which relies on foreign aid, has not been able to pay its 160,000 employees, who support another million family members. “Growing numbers of people are unable to cover their daily food needs and agencies report that basic services such as healthcare and education are deteriorating and set to worsen much further,” he added.

Most of the 2007 emergency funding sought will go towards addressing poverty through emergency employment programmes, and expanding food and agricultural aid, as well as supporting health, education and psycho-social services. The appeal for a total of $453.6 million was jointly launched by 12 UN agencies and 14 NGOs working with the Palestinians.  


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