Gaza hospitals shootout

IRIN reports (12 June 2007) that patients were killed in crossfire as hospitals were overrun by gunmen in a new wave of Gaza violence.

The violence claimed 17 lives and ambulance teams are being prevented from evacuating the wounded from combat zones by checkpoints manned by armed fighters across the Strip, medical organisations said.

Hamas stormed the hospitals because it was worried Fatah would target its wounded fighters. Gaza hospitals have often been the scenes of firefights as the wounded from both sides receive treatment.

Four patients, including one in the operating theatre, died and 10 more were injured in a hospital in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip, in violence that has led to the hospital’s effective closure, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

At Shifa Hospital, the biggest in Gaza City, Hamas and Fatah gunmen traded fire throughout 11 June and into 12 June but the hospital continued to function, Palestinian doctors said. The European Hospital in Rafah, on the border with Egypt, and Nasser Hospital in the southern city of Khan Younis have also witnessed fighting, the doctors told IRIN.

Saudi sues tobacco firms

Gulf News reports (20 May 2007) that Saudi Arabia will seek more than US$2.7 billion in damages from international tobacco companies in a lawsuit. The case will be heard in September.

In November last year, the ministry threatened to sue international tobacco companies unless they paid the government and patients the full cost of treatment for tobacco-related illnesses.

This is the first time it has put a value on the claim. The suit will require companies to pay a lump sum of 10 billion riyals plus 500 million riyals a year for the treatment of tobacco-related illnesses, the health ministry said. It did not say what period the compensation would cover, nor did it name any companies.

Rising cost of healthcare

The direct healthcare costs in the GCC region are expected to increase fivefold by 2025 to US$60 billion from $12 billion now, with health risk factors, ageing, population growth and medical inflation expected to be the major contributors to the increase, according to a recently released report.

GCC Healthcare 2025 was presented by Dr Viktor Hediger at the GE Healthcare Middle East Media Summit in Dubai in June.

According to the report the cost burden for cardiac diseases, which is expected to increase from the current $1.5 billion to $15 billion by 2025, will account for some 24% of healthcare costs in the region, followed by infectious diseases, maternal and perinatal conditions, digestive diseases and cancer.

Dr Hediger said the number of outpatient and inpatient visits is expected to grow 350% in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait; 260% in Bahrain; and 310% in Oman. He pointed out that the GCC region has a shortage of nursing staff with only 4.2 nurses per 1,000 population in the UAE; 3 per 1,000 in Saudi Arabia; 4.3 in Bahrain; and 3.5 in Oman.

The GCC average of 4 nurses per 1,000 people is less than half of that in OECD countries, which have an average of 9.4 per 1,000.

Vaccine awareness

Her Royal Highness Princess Alia Bint Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, of Saudi Arabia, announced (10 June 2007) an effort to educate Saudi parents about the importance of immunising infants and young children against potentially debilitating, and sometimes fatal, vaccinepreventable diseases.

As part of the initiative children were offered free vaccinations to protect against pneumococcal disease. “I believe there is no better legacy we can leave our children than immunity from diseases that can be prevented by available vaccines,” the princess said.

More than two million children younger than five years of age die each year from vaccine-preventable diseases worldwide and pneumococcal disease remains the number one vaccine-preventable cause of death in these children, according to the WHO.

Healthcare management

ESA Gulf, with the Bahrainbased Arabian Gulf University (AGU), has launched an internationally recognised part-time Executive Master in Hospital & Healthcare Management.

Upon successful completion of the 14-month programme, participants will be awarded the “MUPS Master- Management of Health Units” from Université Denis Diderot, Paris, France.

“The Middle East region’s hospital and healthcare environment is incredibly dynamic, and successful management demands more than the ability to treat patients: today’s health industry leaders must be trained in all aspects of management, strategic planning, finance, economics, cost-benefit analysis, human resources management, and information technologies,” said Dr Phillip Mouillot, director of ESA Gulf.

Dr Mouillot expressed the programme’s value to all healthcare stakeholders in public and private sectors, and at all organisational levels (medical doctors, decision makers, nurses, pharmacists, hospital managers) in terms of its ability to empower their careers in the healthcare industry and reinforce their knowledge and management proficiency. Visit:

Diabetes centre for Dubai

Dubai’s Department of Health and Medical Services and Emaar Healthcare Group, the wholly owned subsidiary of Emaar Properties, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with US-based Joslin Diabetes Center

and Harvard Medical Faculty physicians, two prestigious global healthcare institutions, to set up an advanced diabetes centre in Dubai.

PACS/RIS for Jordan’s KMC

GE Healthcare, in association with the Arab Medical and Scientific Alliance (AMSA), has installed Jordan’s first fully integrated and digital radiology workflow system at the Al Khalidi Medical Centre (KMC) in Amman to meet the massive increase in radiology patient data and images.

GE Healthcare’s Centricity Radiology Information and Picture Archiving and Communications System (RIS/PACS), enables a fully integrated and digital workflow, high quality patient data, reliable functionality and user friendliness.

Fully integrated into the Hospital Information System, GE’s Centricity solution converts radiology from a conventional film-based department into a digital filmless environment.

Dr Alif Al Saleh, head of the Radiology department at KMC, said: “By installing this sophisticated information technology solution, KMC takes a quantum leap in the performance of our Radiology and Cath Lab departments, which in turn, supports the healthcare needs of the local population further.”

Juergen Reyinger, general manager, IITS Europe, Middle East & Africa at GE Healthcare, said: “Over 40 hospitals in the Middle East region have chosen our Centricity solutions because our tools deliver clinical depth.

DoHMS approves Exubera

Exubera, a novel short-acting inhaled insulin preparation, has been approved by Dubai’s Department of Health & Medical Services (DoHMS).

Exubera represents the latest advance in insulin therapy for type 1 and 2 diabetes. The medication has been added to the DoHMS formulary. According to Dr Ali Al Sayed, head of pharmacy at DoHMS, the department is the first institution in the Middle East to procure Exubera.

“This reflects DoHMS initiatives in maintaining the highest standards needed in medicine management and supply chain of medicines,” he said.

Funds for Iraqi doctors

Iraqi doctors in Damascus welcomed the announcement on 1 May by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) that it is contributing US$2 million to the Syrian Ministry of Health for the strengthening of medical facilities available for more than one million Iraqi refugees in Syria.

“Many Iraqi refugees need urgent medical help and Syrian private hospitals are too expensive,” Ayad Tariq, an Iraqi doctor who fled Baghdad in July 2006, told IRIN News. “I’m doing nothing here and I want to help the other refugees, even if I work for free.

Most of the Iraqi doctors here are unemployed and we need and want to be practicing,” he said. Iraqi refugees are forbidden by the Syrian government from seeking employment. The sum brings to US$9.6 million the amount that UNHCR has pledged this year to help the Syrian government provide vital services to the estimated 1.2 million Iraqi refugees currently residing in Syria.

The latest contribution is to be used for the provision of medical equipment and services as well as the rehabilitation of Damascus hospitals in an effort to meet the growing health demands of the Iraqi refugee population.

UNHCR estimates that more than two million Iraqis have fled Iraq since the USled war began in March 2003, with more than one million of them fleeing to Syria. Thousands more continue to enter the country each month.

Working with the Syrian Ministry of Health and Syrian Arab Red Crescent, UNHCR is also involved in plans for a new hospital for Iraqi refugees. The Zahera hospital, which is due to open in October this year, will be largely staffed by Iraqi doctors.

Heart centre celebrates

The German Heart Center Bremen in Dubai Healthcare City celebrated its first birthday in May. Dr Kaus Kallmayer, chairman, said the first year had not been without its challenges.

“In Germany, there is an old saying about pioneers: For the first generation – death; for the second – hunger; for the third – bread. It has not been that bad. But to get started at the same time as the DHCC organisation as a whole was a challenge.

For some of the services we brought to DHCC the rules had not yet been written. “We are still struggling with a deplorable lack of general awareness that DHCC is already operational.”

However, he said the first webs of an internal medical network were developing, and they have found good friends and strong partners at DHCC. German Heart Centre Bremen is not a stand-alone facility, but the branch of one of Germany's busiest cardiology centres.

All services offered in Germany are also provided in Dubai, on a permanent basis and with the same German staff from Bremen.

Kuwait Thalassemia

Hundreds of people gathered in May in Kuwait City in support of Kuwait’s Thalassemia patients. The event, organised by the Kuwait Thalassemia Society and sponsored by Novartis, was held under the patronage of His Excellency Dr Mohamed Albosairy, the deputy head of the Parliament in co-operation with Dr Maasooma Almubarak, the Minister of Health under the slogan of “This Life Is Yours; Color It with Your Will.”

The purpose of the event was to provide an opportunity for doctors, patients, and families associated with the Thalassemia disease to make positive contact with others in the country who face the same situation – trying to live an enjoyable and productive life despite dealing with a chronic blood disorder. Dr Maha Bourusly, Kuwait Thalassemia Association spokesperson, commented: “The most significant achievement in the scientific committee of the Kuwait Thalassemia Association was the implementation of the law for obligatory premarriage genetic tests for Thalassemia.

Kuwait Ministry of Health has set up a committee of specialists to develop a mechanism to put this law into effect.”

DoHMS-Emaar partnership

Emaar Healthcare Group (EHG), the wholly owned subsidiary of Emaar Properties, one of the world’s largest real estate companies, has signed the first of its kind public-private partnership agreement with Dubai’s Department of Health and Medical Services (DoHMS) to open specialised medical facilities in the emirate.

Mohamed Ali Alabbar, chairman, Emaar Properties, and Omar Al Shunnar, executive director, Emaar Healthcare Group, signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Qadhi Al Murooshid, director general, DoHMS.

The longterm agreement is expected to further strengthen Dubai’s medical sector through Emaar’s development of specialised medical facilities. As part of the agreement, EHG will collaborate with DoHMS to develop an advanced Diabetes Medical Centre in association with international specialists, a Premium Maternity Care Centre and various other centres of excellence in Dubai.

Al Murooshid said: “DoHMS is committed to delivering an effective healthcare infrastructure that matches international standards.

The partnership with EHG will lend momentum to our development initiatives.” Shunnar said the centres of excellence will be in fields such as cardiology, thoracic surgery, oncology, plastic and reconstructive surgery, and medical rehabilitation.

He said they were also considering setting up a central medical laboratory and a reference centre for reproductive medicine.

GE donates Voluson E8

GE Healthcare has donated a Voluson E8 ultrasound imaging system to mark the recent opening of the Cairo Fetal Medicine (CAIFM) Unit at Kasr Al Aini Faculty of Medicine, Cairo University.

CAIFM is a specialised Fetal Medicine Unit for education, training and research. The unit is headed by Dr Mohamed Momtaz. The Voluson E8, is expected to enhance the ability of detecting foetal heart abnormalities and also aid in the standardisation of foetal heart images.

The Voluson series has 4D imaging capabilities. The E8 also includes new tools designed to improve clinical workflow. The most significant tool is the Sonographybased Volume Computer Aided Diagnosis (Sono- VCAD), which makes it easier to acquire volume images of the foetal heart.

Hypertension awareness

The Regional Alliance for Hypertension Awareness (RAHA), a UAE-based publicprivate initiative was launched in Dubai to coincide with World Hypertension Day on 17 May.

The alliance aims to raise public awareness of hypertension in the UAE through the dissemination of media and the holding of free blood pressure screening days at strategic locations across the Emirates as an on-going programme.

‘Twenty-five percent of deaths in the UAE are due to heart disease and stroke,” said Dr VJ Sebastian, head of the Department of Cardiology at Dubai’s Welcare Hospital.

“Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a key cause of heart disease.” He said studies in Hatta and Dubai had shown that around 27% of the UAE population had high blood pressure (BP greater than 140/90 mm HG). “But what is worrying is that only half of these people are aware that they are hypertensive. And only a third is regularly taking corrective medication.”

“It’s a silent disease, there are no symptoms and often the first time people realise they are hypertensive is when they have heart failure or stroke.” Dr Afzalhussein Yusufali, consultant cardiologist and in-charge of the Cardiology Unit at Dubai Hospital, said hypertension was a huge problem in the community and it was the community who should get involved in beating the disease. “For example, salt in the diet is well known to raise blood pressure. Food manufacturers could play their part by reducing the salt content in food they make,” he pointed out.

He referred to a report released by the WHO in April this year endorsing population- wide strategies to reduce salt consumption as a costeffective means of lowering blood pressure. The report urges governments around the world to reduce average sodium consumption to 2,000 milligrams per day.

“We believe if more people are screened for hypertension, more people will be treated. If we can reduce the number of people with hypertension we can reduce the high level of mortality from cardiovascular disease, particularly among those at a young age,” Dr Yusufali explained.

Dr Marayam Kaladari, spokesperson for RAHA, said Dubai’s Department of Health and Medical Services and the Dubai Cardiac Society in partnership with the UAE Ministry of Health, Welcare Hospital and Dubai Hospital were spearheading the RAHA initiative. “RAHA will start in the UAE and hopefully this joint public-private initiative will be adopted in other countries in the region,” she said.

Afghan health improves

Infant mortality rates in Afghanistan declined from an estimated 165 per 1,000 live births in 2001 to about 135 per 1,000 in 2006, according to preliminary findings of Johns Hopkins University (JHU) household survey.

This means that 40,000 fewer infants are dying each year compared to during Taliban rule, says the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan in a 26 April report. A health facility assessment, also commissioned by the Ministry of Public Health, indicates a 25% improvement in overall quality of health services since 2004.

The JHU assessment – which surveyed more than 600 health facilities each year since 2004 and used a Balance Score Card (BSC) to measure different aspects of quality of services – found improvements in virtually all aspects of care in almost every province.

“Despite many challenges, there are clear signs of health sector recovery and progress throughout the country,” said Dr Mohammad Amin Fatimi, Afghanistan’s Public Health Minister. “The JHU evaluations give us some encouragement that the government has achieved real successes, but there is a long way to go to provide access to basic health services for Afghans in remote, underserved and marginalised areas across the country.

Continuing progress will be difficult without a firm commitment by the international community to increase and secure financing for the sector.”

Oman joint venture

US-based Ascent Medical Technology Fund II, LP has entered into a joint venture with Salalah Medical Supplies Manufacturing Company of Oman to open a medical manufacturing centre in Salalah.

It will begin operations with the product development and manufacture of guide wire products and surgical kits. According to Peggy Farley, president and CEO of Ascent Capital Management, its primary aim is to build valueadded medical device products for the US, European and GCC markets.

The initiative comes on the back of a fund set up to provide venture capital in the region specific to the healthcare industry. The lead investor is the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, which is investing US$15 million in the private equity Shefa Fund.

Bone health

Dubai Bone and Joint Center (DBAJ) and the UAE Ministry of Health (MoH) have started a joint initiative to help prevent osteoporosis through an awareness campaign and a national screening programme for women.

The collaboration was announced in May to coincide with Bone Health Week, during which free bone screening sessions were held. It is estimated that 70% of post menopausal women in the Emirates have osteoporosis, and it is expected that as the population ages there will be an increasing number of people affected.

Of the 450 people who attended the free screening sessions 56% had showed signs of low bone density. Dr Humeira Badsha, specialist rheumatologist at DBAJ, said: “We tend to see people at a very late stage of osteo-arthritis. We want to change this.

“A lot of these issues - joint replacement, osteoporosis – could be prevented if detected early. And this is why screening is so important,” she said. Dr Mariam Matar, assistant undersecretary of Preventive Medicine in the UAE Ministry of Health for Public Health and Primary Health Care, said: “This screening campaign is essential for the population of the UAE.”

She said the campaign fits with the MoH’s vision to scan and diagnose diseases which can be detected early. She emphasised the screening initiative was open to all women of the Emirates and not only nationals.

“We plan to have workshops and screenings in a different Emirate each month. And this will be continuous until 2015,” she added. Meanwhile, Dr Matar advised that Arabic women should remove their abayas in the privacy of their homes and expose their legs and arms to the sun for at least 20 minutes each day.

Sunlight is essential for the production of vitamin D, which is required by the bones to absorb calcium and prevent osteoporosis.

Drugs profits cut

The UAE Ministry of Economy has turned down a request by drug suppliers to increase profit margins and asked the Health Ministry to slash them further, a senior official told Gulf News (28 May 2007).

The order followed a request by drug agents to the Ministry of Health to increase profit margins on some medicines by 14%. The Health Ministry cut prices of drugs by 15% in 2004, and further slashed prices by about 20% in 2005 on profit margins of both distributors and pharmacies.

Support for Gaza doctors

Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud is contributing US$411,000 to support UNRWA’s (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) Medical Training Programme in Gaza.

His Highness’ Kingdom Foundation pledged funds in May which will enable 30 doctors and nurses working in Gaza to pursue post-graduate studies in public health at Gaza’s Al- Quds University.

The funds will pay for tuition, as well as cover the costs of employing temporary medical staff to replace those in training. UNRWA’s Commissioner- General, Karen Koning AbuZayd, said: “We are very grateful for this contribution from Prince Alwaleed.

It will enable us to provide much needed training to medical staff in Gaza. “The demands upon UNRWA medical services have grown considerably over the past year, as the economic impact of international sanctions has worsened. UNRWA’s ability to maintain minimum standards of healthcare, as well as to provide training for our staff, is being severely tested.

We are in dire need of more generous donations like that of Prince Alwaleed,” Abu- Zayd said. A spokesperson for the Kingdom Foundation said: “We are pleased to have this opportunity to contribute to the long-term development of UNRWA’s medical staff and, through that, to the health and welfare of the refugees in Gaza.”

Your Health Matters

The “Your Health Matters” campaign was launched throughout the Gulf in April by Sanofi-Aventis in association with the World Health Organisation, the Gulf Heart Association and the Emirates Cardiac Society.

The campaign is a spring board for a number of initiatives aimed at raising awareness in the Gulf about abdominal obesity and associated cardio metabolic risk factors and their link to cardiovascular disease. In June free blood pressure and blood glucose screening was offered at number of shopping malls in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

And a Continuous Medical Education session for GCC doctors on cardiometabolic risks was held via a live transmission from Harvard University in the US. Abdominal obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the Pan Arab region.

Based on the results of the International Day for Evaluation of Abdominal Obesity (IDEA) survey, prevalence of obesity in the UAE averages 37% in adults aged thirty years and over. Dr Oussama Al Khatib (Regional advisor for Noncommunicable Diseases WHO, said: “In recent years, lifestyle related diseases have emerged as serious health problems that affect millions in the Pan-Arab region.

“If left untreated, more often than not, these diseases can result in cardiovascular disease. In this respect, it is our responsibility as doctors to educate our patients about the most effective ways to combat cardio metabolic risks and bring them under control.”

US clinic in Abu Dhabi deal

United States-based Cleveland Clinic has signed an agreement with the Health Authority of Abu Dhabi to manage and operate Sheikh Khalifa Medical City (SKMC), a network of healthcare facilities in Abu Dhabi.

Cleveland Clinic has also appointed Kenneth Ouriel, MD, Chief Executive Officer of SKMC. Dr Ouriel is chairman of Cleveland Clinic’s Division of Surgery and a vascular surgeon.

In his new role, Dr Ouriel will lead the management team of SKMC in implementing strategic initiatives and working with the Health Authority of Abu Dhabi to incorporate Cleveland Clinic’s healthcare model. “I look forward to embarking on this unique and exciting opportunity to work with the premier hospital of Abu Dhabi,” Dr Ouriel said.

“This partnership will help raise the quality standards of healthcare around the world and I’m honored to be a part of that.” The 4 June announcement follows the agreement Cleveland Clinic and Mubadala Development signed in September last year to design and build a new first-class specialty hospital on Al Suwwa Island, Abu Dhabi, within the next three years.


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