Spine surgery first

A 32-year-old expatriate woman from Sharjah has become the first patient in the United Arab Emirates and second in the Gulf to undergo a new minimally invasive surgical procedure to replace a disc between the vertebrae using an artificial disc. The new procedure, developed in the United States, offers significantly improved results and faster post-operative recovery.

The first such procedure was recently undertaken at the American Hospital Dubai as part of a two-day conference on minimally invasive spinal surgery which included lectures and a live teleconference with the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, US.

The artificial disc replacement procedure allows the patient to maintain vertebrae mobility. Previously, the only option was to fuse the vertebrae, which would restrict mobility and could eventually lead to problems in other discs. The new technique means surgical incisions are smaller and results in less pain, a shorter hospital stay and a faster return to normal life.

The first disc replacement operation was observed, via a live video link, by an audience of more than 40 neurosurgeons, neurologists and spinal orthopedic surgeons from the Gulf, France, Canada, Egypt, Jordan and Pakistan, who were attending the conference. The procedure was performed by Professor Assaker, a neurosurgeon from Lille in France, and Dr Kassem El-Shunnar, consultant neurosurgeon at the American Hospital Dubai.

Operation Smile

Greater numbers of Jordanian and Iraqi children suffering from cleft lip and palate conditions will benefit from free corrective surgery, thanks to the local branch of the international non-government organisation (NGO), Operation Smile (OS), reports the Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN).

“The next Operation Smile mission, in July this year, will be a Jordanian-Iraqi mission,” said Manal Wazani, executive director of OS Jordan (OSJ), in Amman.

“A medical crew of 50 volunteer doctors from around the world will operate on 50 Jordanian patients and 50 Iraqi patients in a 10-day mission to the kingdom.” A cleft lip is a gap or split in the upper lip; a cleft palate is a gap in the roof of the mouth. The cause of these medical conditions, which occur in the foetus during pregnancy, are the subject of continuing research.

Ismael Ibrahim, 36, who had a cleft lip and palate, had lost faith in the local health system after having several failed operations to rectify his disfiguring condition. When he learned about OSJ through surfing the Internet, he decided to try again. He was contacted by OSJ last year and asked if he wanted to accept their offer of another operation and decided he would. “My life has changed considerably after the operation,” he told IRIN in Amman. “People can finally understand me when I speak.

My main problem was that my speech was unintelligible and I can finally express myself by talking, rather than by signalling with my hands and writing notes,” he added. OSJ medical volunteers have been providing free surgery and related healthcare to needy children and adults in two Jordanian cities since October 2000. They are now planning to send missions to other parts of the country.

The medical charity is also working with Iraqis. According to OSJ, the incidence of cleft lips and palates in developing countries is approximately one in every 500 births. Wazani said there are no reliable statistics on the number of cleft lip and palate cases in Jordan, but according to unofficial statistics collected by medical researchers, the rate is 1.39 per 1,000 live births. This data was collected from hospital surgical records between 1991 and 2001. The information showed a higher prevalence rate for boys, at 55% of the total, than for girls.

It also revealed that cleft conditions among Jordanians were similar to the prevalence rate in Caucasians. A study is currently being conducted by OSJ to compile accurate statistics on the number of cleft cases in the kingdom. OSJ also trains local medical professionals and assists in building an infrastructure to help treat even more children.

“Three Jordanian doctors and 55 other doctors from around the world are participating in the Physician Training Programme (PTP) in the United States, to train in the best medical practices and technologies,” Wazani said. The July mission will allow Jordanian doctors to share experiences and expertise with the visiting doctors. “It is an educational visit that will help OSJ in setting up the multi-disciplinary cleft centre that is planned to open here next year,” she explained.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Physicians at a major rheumatoid arthritis congress in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, have called for a concerted effort in combating the disease, which affects one person in a hundred in the Middle East.

With the worldwide prevalence of rheumatoid arthritis estimated at more than 20 million people in 2004 (based on United States Census Bureau data, World Health Organisation statistics and epidemiology studies), global health bodies have also called for wider action to raise awareness and combat the disease.

Rheumatoid arthritis causes joints to stiffen and swell, leaving patients in pain and unable to perform everyday tasks and, in some cases, leads to severe disability.

Professor Paul Tak, director of clinical immunology and rheumatology at Academic Medical Centre, University of Amsterdam, and medical director of Dubai Bone and Joint Centre addressed the congress, which also included delegates from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait and the UAE. The event was also supported by the UAE Rheumatology Club, one of the groups leading the campaign against the condition.

“Rheumatoid arthritis is what is classified as an autoimmune disease, or one in which the body’s tissues are mistakenly attacked by its own immune system. The most visible symptoms of the disease are swollen joints and crippling stiffness,” said Dr Mustafa Al Izzi, consultant rheumatologist at Mafraq Hospital, Abu Dhabi, and secretary of the UAE Rheumatology Club.

“It is important that measures are taken to highlight the condition and to promote the range of treatments available which can help both relieve the pain and discomfort it causes, and impede the development of this condition,” he added. Among the new treatments available is the first ever fully human monoclonal antibody, an advanced treatment taken as a twice-monthly injection which is now available on prescription in the region.

It works by checking the degeneration of bone and tissue in arthritis sufferers, as well as providing relief from painful and swollen joints.

Fitter children

Schools that are leading the way in encouraging students to participate in sport were honoured in a ceremony held at ASPIRE, the Academy for Sports Excellence, Doha, Qatar. Childhood obesity and related illnesses are seen as major challenges in the Gulf region where one child in three is registered as officially obese.

Health professionals have long argued that a stronger sporting culture could help tackle this issue. The ‘Talent Identification Fitness Award’ was launched this year to recognise the achievements of schools that actively encourage students to take up sport. It was introduced with the full support of ASPIRE and the Ministry of Education’s Physical Education Department.

Schools were judged on data collected from ASPIRE’s talent identification process, a nationwide search for potential sporting champions. Experts from the Academy assessed the performance and fitness of students in public education and some private schools.

For the first time, the talent identification process tested girls as well as boys, offering the most comprehensive insight yet into the physical capabilities and performance potential of girls in Qatar. Having first ranked the schools according to their average fitness scores, ASPIRE found that two schools had the highest proportion of fit and healthy pupils.

The Al Muthanna Bin Harithah School was judged the facility which has participated best in developing the physical capabilities of its students through its sports programme and which has the best developed physical fitness for boys. Om Hani School received the equivalent distinction for girls’ schools.

Dr Andreas Bleicher, sports manager, ASPIRE said: “Students who take up sport at an early age tend to live happier and healthier lives. Schools play a vital role in engendering a passion for physical fitness and physical activity.”

Jump for joy

The Fitness Centre at the Mövenpick Hotel Bur Dubai, UAE, has introduced a novel way to exercise which adds a good dose of fun to the normal routine.

In a first for the Middle East the fitness centre is strapping Kangoo Jumps to participants to add a new dimension to regular fitness programmes. Kangoo Jumps are low impact rebound sport shoes. The shoe has a spring mechanism attached to the sole enabling the user to bounce, jump and jog with a spring in their step. First designed in 2003, the shoes proved a great success in Europe.

The low impact shoes have been shown to have many health benefits, particularly in rehabilitation. They reduce up to 80% of impact shock to ankles, shins, knees, hips, lower back and spine, thereby preventing reinjury, and have been recommended by physiotherapists for rehabilitation from sports injuries and certain surgeries.

The Kangoo Jumps are safe and easy to use and because exercising in them burns up many more calories than exercising in normal sports shoes, they are ideal for weight loss. Kangoo Jumps are also known to promote cardiovascular health through exercise as well as increase bone density for people suffering from osteoporosis.

COX-2 analgesics

Doctors from different specialties across the GCC heard the full story about pain relievers at a special conference about Cox-2. Professor Andrew Whelton, a Johns Hopkins Universitybased gastroenterologist and an FDA advisory board member, assured doctors that the COX-2 drug, Celebrex, remains the first treatment option for patients, as it was created in a unique molecular structure to reduce pain with minimal potential side effects when compared with the older generation, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and diclofenac.

Moreover, Celebrex is the only COX-2 drug approved by the FDA. Dr Whelton said that scientific findings from two recent medical trials – one covering more than 1.4 million patients from around the world – and other studies on the use of pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs both proved the safety of Celebrex as one of the main options available for treatment of pain and rheumatoid arthritis as its benefits outweigh its risks of side effects.

Dr Whelton also said his aim in meeting doctors from the Middle East was to exchange expertise and review facts related to pain relievers. Since its introduction, Celebrex has been prescribed to 28 million patients around the world and clinical research has been conducted on more than 40,000 patients.

HeartStart in UAE

Philips has launched the HeartStart range of automatic external defibrillators (AED) in the UAE.

The HeartStart Home and HeartStart On Site defibrillators are designed for easy, emergency operation and can be used by virtually anyone, says Philips.

“HeartStart defibrillators are specifically designed with simplicity in mind,” commented Louis Hakim, CEO for Philips Middle East. “Philips defibrillators provide clear, easy-to-follow voice instructions and a simple user interface to guide the responder through an emergency.”

“HeartStart AED technology has become an essential part of administering immediate first aid to a victim of sudden cardiac arrest,” said Ian Lauritzen, general manager Philips Medical Systems Middle East. “The HeartStart is a portable, automated external defibrillator (AED) that requires minimal device training to use.

Its many features make it extremely versatile, enabling responders to potentially save the life of a family member, co-worker, friend, patient or fellow citizen under demanding circumstances.” Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is one of the main causes of death in Europe and the United States for both men and women.

More people die each year from SCA than from breast cancer, prostate cancer, AIDS, house fires and traffic accidents combined.

Weight loss campaign

Local healthcare professionals and nutritionists have welcomed the early results of a Pan-Arab campaign to tackle obesity and raise awareness of the dangers of an overweight lifestyle.

Launched in March this year, the “iDecide” antiobesity campaign and its “Weight Loss Starts from Within” slogan has support from medical and patient communities in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and most of the Gulf states.

More than 10,000 presentation packs have been distributed over a three-month period to help patients initiate the weight loss process. A major theme of the campaign is the important role that doctors can play in helping patients to develop a complete programme for weight loss once they have made the decision to lose weight.

“Doctors can play an important role in helping patients to tackle obesity and, by encouraging patients to visit their physician, the iDecide campaign is providing people with an essential resource to manage their obesity,” said Amer Haddadin of Abbott Laboratories, one of the healthcare groups supporting the campaign.

iDecide offers a range of tools to help patients become mentally prepared to ask for help and to pursue a course of action that will help them to manage their weight effectively. The campaign involves a series of activities with patient groups and healthcare organisations.

For more information visit: www.idecide.ca

Golan Hospital

Thousands of residents in the western Syrian city of Qunaytirah, 67 km from the capital Damascus, will benefit from the latest medical technology at the newly-opened Golan Hospital, the first medical facility in the governorate.

Until the hospital opened in February, people were forced to travel long distances for medical services. “Before the hospital opened, I used to go to a health centre in Khan Arnaba village, 10 km from Qunaytirah, or to Damascus hospital whenever I needed medical help,” Ramez Shaayer, 23, told the Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) in Qunaytirah. The health centre in Khan Arnaba is basic and unable to deal with emergency cases such as accident trauma, heart attacks or complications in childbirth, he added.

“The Ministry of Health (MoH) has financed the construction of the new hospital, while the Japanese Government provided a US$4.2 million grant to finance necessary medical equipment for operation rooms, radiology, laboratories, emergency and the outpatient departments,” director general of Golan Hospital, Dr Salah Ismael said.

The hospital, which employs 40 specialist physicians, provides care for most medical conditions. Dr Ismael said the hospital had coped with 9,783 emergencies, 5,104 patients in specialised outpatient clinics, 168 maternity cases and 37 surgical operations since April.

The medical facility provides healthcare and surgical services for 150,000 residents living in Qunaytirah as well as residents from many villages in the governorates of Dara'a and Sweida, both around 100 km south of the capital.

“We receive a growing number of patients every day. The 200-bed hospital has the most up-to-date equipment in the world,” Dr Khodr al- Wadi, told IRIN. The Japanese ambassador to Syria, Azusa Hayashi, added: “In view of the growing population in Syria and the rapid development of healthcare technology in the world, there is a continued need for upgrading medical equipment to secure proper healthcare and emergency services for the Syrian people." The country’s health minister praised previous donations by the Japanese Government, including an ambulance service in 1994.

Med schools closed

Yemeni authorities have ordered the closure of 52 medical faculties in private universities for failing to meet the minimum education criteria.

"The decision has been taken after specialised committees visited eight private universities to see if the medical facilities fitted the criteria set up by the Supreme Education Planning Council and the Supreme Universities Council," deputy minister of Higher Education, Ali Qasem told the Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a.

The measure was taken after media reports and complaints from students. The decision excluded the University of Science and Technology which is to continue running the medicine faculty. The minister pointed out that the universities will have a chance to respond.

"The main problem is that they hire unqualified teaching staff. They also lack the required facilities and equipment. They must work in a professional way. Business should not prioritise their academic responsibilities," Qasem maintained. The closure order, he said, will be put into effect from the beginning of August.

"We do not want students to be affected by this decision and lose their academic year. From next year we will work with these private universities to accommodate them in the seven state-run universities," he explained.

Yemen polio

A massive immunisation campaign is underway in Yemen where the number of confirmed polio cases soared to 179 by the end of May. The polio outbreak was confirmed in mid-May after 18 cases were reported following the completion of a routine national immunisation programme.

"The number of confirmed polio cases has reached 179 across 11 provinces," the Yemeni Public Health and Population Minister, Dr Mohammed al-Nomee, told the Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN). The health department joined the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in a three-day nationwide vaccination.

The sweep was the first of two, targeting some five million children below the age of five. An awareness campaign was launched through the media, schools, mosques and community leaders to motivate parents to bring their children in for vaccination. More than 36,000 workers are participating in the house-tohouse programme.

"The number of polio cases could increase to 200 as many more suspected cases are still being investigated," WHO representative for Yemen Dr Hashim Al-Zain said. He denied there were conflicting reports about the number of cases in the country. According to the health minister, the results showed that of the examined samples, 76 cases had tested negative.

The worst affected governorates were reportedly in Hodeidah in the west (134 cases), Sana and Taiz in the south, along with Hadramawt in the east and Amran in the north. Al-Nomai and UNICEF communications co-ordinator, Naseem Ur-Rehman, denied reports that the reason for the increase in cases was a lack of safe vaccines.

It has been reported that the crippling disease spread from Nigeria to 12 other African countries, including Sudan. "I think this virus was definitely brought to Yemen, because we had no problem [with polio] for the past six years.

If the virus was indigenous we would have seen it within the last six years," said the Yemeni health official. There are only six countries in the world considered polio-endemic: Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Niger, Afghanistan and Egypt. A total of 1,266 cases of polio were reported worldwide last year, according to the WHO.


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