WHO acknowledges Oman healthy village

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared Qalhat in Oman the country’s first healthy village.

Qalhat village achieved the honour by working with the Sur Healthy City project to improve health and environmental conditions in the village through public awareness campaigns and community participation.

A Village Development Council was also established to manage issues pertaining to women and children, health and environment, and socio-economic affairs.

A WHO mission recently visited Qalhat to assess progress with the initiative to improve the quality of life of villagers through the adoption of the healthy village scheme.
Villagers were asked to identify and provide solutions to issues concerning water supply and sanitation, hygiene and health services, employment and the environment.

Many of the interventions do require the assistance of local and national governments and non-government organisations, said the WHO.

Reports indicate that while the groundwork for the Healthy Village is making headway, it might be sometime before the village transforms itself into a healthier, robust community with adequate access to basic services and healthcare needs.

Fee for Saudi expats

Expatriates working for foreign companies in Saudi Arabia will be charged for treatment in government hospitals following a directive issued by the Ministry of Health in December last year.

However, treatment will remain free of charge for non-Saudis working for the government. All emergency and critical cases will be treated in government hospitals free of cost.
Sami Ba Dawood, Director General of King Fahad Hospital in Jeddah said government officials decided on the fee system following a study of healthcare in the Kingdom. Fees will be set by the hospitals themselves “but should not exceed private hospitals”, Dawood said.

Junior doctors

According to a report in Gulf News private hospitals in the UAE have complained about a shortage of junior doctors and called on the Ministry of Health to be lenient in licensing new doctors.

Dr SFA Abidi, Adminis-tration Director of Zulekha Health Care Group, said during a meeting with health ministry officials in Abu Dhabi recently that the lack of junior doctors was creating problems in running the organisation’s activities.

At the meeting directors of private hospitals cited two reasons for the shortage: There were too few ministerial exams for obtaining licences and the ministry’s evaluation procedures are too slow, which discourages many aspiring doctors.

Dr Abdul Ghaffar Abdul Ghaffour, Assistant Undersecretary for Curative Medicine, told Gulf News that only 25 per cent of those who took the exams passed.
He pointed out the ministry could not compromise on the standard only for the sake of issuing more licences to overcome the shortage.

“We have to guarantee that only the fully prepared get the title of junior doctor.”

Saudi AIDS

The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health plans to establish three specialised facilities in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam to combat Ac-quired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and an AIDS treatment centre at the Riyadh Medical Com-plex has opened.

The facilities will study, evaluate and treat patients with AIDS. It is estimated there are more than 1,350 Saudis suffering from the disease. Accurate figures for the number of AIDS-infected expatriates are not available but evidence points to this number growing.

In a report released by the ministry, Dr Tarek Medani, adviser to the minister, said the AIDS diagnostic and treatment facilities were primarily intended to halt the epidemic. He said the ministry had recently allocated SR20 million (about US$5.3 million) for medication for AIDS patients in the Kingdom.

According to the report the ministry has a public programme to register all AIDS patients, with the aim of tracking and com-bating the spread of the disease.
Dr Medani said there were clear guidelines regarding the treatment of foreigners. “First, they will be treated in the Kingdom until they are in a stable condition and then they will be deported to their home countries.”

In an effort to educate the public about AIDS, the ministry has sponsored many AIDS-awareness pro-grammes in co-operation with other government agencies and private organisations.

Pharmaceutical ethics

A new Gulf-wide ‘code of practice’ formalising ethical and legal requirements for pharmaceutical marketing and information, was launched in Abu Dhabi in January.
The code was developed by leading US and European research-based pharmaceutical companies operating in the Gulf who are represented by industry association Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association Gulf (PhRMAG), and healthcare professionals.

“This new code sets in place the standards of conduct that the healthcare profession can expect from the pharmaceutical industry. A strong regulatory framework has been established, which will form the basis of future dealings in this area,” said Dr Easa Bin Jakka Al Mansoori, Director of the Drug Control Department at the UAE Ministry of Health.

The code covers a wide range activities, including promotions, medical congresses, consultancy, and medical representatives’ conduct. It establishes a clear set of guidelines and allows for full enforcement procedures for companies that work in the Gulf.

The PhRMAG compliments the Code of Ethics for Healthcare Professionals developed by the Ministry of Health.

And in another development, Ibrahim Aql, General Manager of Abbott Laboratories in the Middle East, has been named as head of the ethics review board at the PhRMAG. He will have responsibility for extending the association’s activities around education and ethical conduct, an important aspect of its work in representing international pharmaceutical companies in the region.

“The core responsibility of healthcare companies is to improve and prolong human life, and we all need to ensure that our activities support a collective reputation for reliability and honesty, so that we can operate in a transparent environment based upon trust. I hope to help all members of the association uphold these values in my new role,” said Aql.

Lasik surgery acquisition

The Fujairah Medical Center (FMC), UAE, has acquired one of the most technologically advanced eye laser surgery instruments - the LaserSight Astrascan. It is the first of its kind in the UAE.

There has been unprecedented worldwide growth in refractive, or Lasik, surgery due the high level of satisfaction of patients who experienced immediate results and the consequent demand for the treatment.

Dr Mazen Alkhalayleh, Ophthalmologist, Fujairah Medical Clinic, said: “This machine offers a safe, painless solution within several minutes. It also opens possibilities for patients who have previously had refractive surgery and have been left with significant problems such as halos or dazzle due to optical aberrations.”

LaserSight Astrascan is a small flying spot excimer laser technique which uses the smallest beam in Lasik surgery (0.4mm) ablating a small amount of tissue with every pulse. The corrective effect is obtained by making the laser beam perform a series of excursions on the cornea, passing several times over those areas where more tissue must be ablated.

The treatment is expected to benefit thousands of UAE residents suffering from refractive errors, giving them independence from corrective lenses.

By using the smallest beam shape, LaserSight Astrascan offers advantages not present in other technologies such as: smooth edges between treated and non-treated areas giving smoother transition zones reducing post-op regressions; predictable results as entered by the surgeon preventing unexpected central islands; and less energy required to ablate the tissue, reducing the thermal effect on the cornea.

However, Dr Alkhalayleh warns: “Various treatment procedures for eye problems confuse people about what is necessary for them. To avoid such conflicts, patients must be knowledgeable about their specific needs and should be very careful in choosing the treatment option that will greatly benefit them.”

New Lebanese Red Cross clinic opens

A new clinic for the Lebanese Red Cross (LRC) was opened recently in the southern town of Alma Shaab. It will dispense medical services for up to 30,000 residents from the town and villages in the vicinity.

The inauguration was attended by Social Affairs Minister Assaad Diab, the French and Canadian Ambassadors, Philippe Lecourtier and Michel Duval respectively, the Head of the LRC, Brigadier Salim Layoun, and local officials.

Diab said that the Lebanese would significantly benefit from such LRC medical care centres and called on the country to follow the example of the LRC in all aspects of political life.

The centre consists of four separate clinics, one for general practice, another for children’s health, a third for gynecology and a fourth as a private clinic.
The head of the LRC local committee, Abdel-Nasser Abu Khalil, told The Daily Star that the liberated areas in the South deserved good medical services as a reward for what this area has endured under Israeli occupation.

The centre was built with US$80,000 provided by the French Embassy. An additional $25,000 was jointly provided by the Canadian Embassy and UNIFIL to cover the cost of the centre’s equipment.

American Hospital Dubai expands

The American Hospital Dubai has completed the first phase of an expansion programme, which has increased the size of the hospital by 25 per cent to almost 24,000 square metres and added 20 per cent more beds.

New tertiary healthcare capabilities have been added, which offer greater levels of specialisation. The expansion programme has been designed to meet the demands for more personalised care, greater comfort and convenience by patients in the UAE and wider region.

The new facilities include a Dialysis Unit with private rooms; lithotripsy service; a 10-bed Intensive Care Unit; Expanded Emergency Department staffed with US Board Certified physicians; a 13-bed child-friendly Pediatric Suite; and an Endoscopy Suite offering same-day surgery and private rooms.

The Radiology Depart-ment has been equipped with new state-of-the-art MRI, CT scanners.
Michael French, Chief Executive Officer of American Hospital Dubai said: “All the facilities we have added continue to meet US standards of healthcare and the investment in the new radiology department, alone, has created a truly state of the art capability.
“Moving more into tertiary care means that we have broadened the healthcare services offered and deepened the level of physician expertise and care available to meet the growing demand for our services.”

A new Cardiac Surgery department, and Oncology department will be added later this year.
Female paramedics for Saudi?

The Ministry of Health and the Saudi Red Crescent Society are studying the feasibility of having female nurses and paramedics in ambulances, the English daily Arab News reported recently.

According to the report the Red Crescent Society said the issue had been under study for some time because there was a need for female paramedics and nurses in ambulances, especially in cases of birth or other emergencies and accidents in which women were involved.

The main barrier to implementing the decision was the requirement that women be accompanied by a mahram (male guardian) and also the possibility of having to go to remote locations. However, it was in those situations that female paramedics were most needed because of limited access to health facilities in those areas, the report stated.
The issue of a woman’s male relatives not allowing male paramedics to treat the woman was also highlighted, quoting a source from the Red Crescent Society. “This is a problem we have faced many times. In one incident, for example, a wife died in front of the paramedics’ eyes while they stood helpless because her husband threatened them with a weapon if they came near her.”

The Red Crescent Society in seeking a solution in accordance with Saudi traditions in co-operation with the Ministry of Health and has sent a proposal for the training of woman paramedics.

Royal medical colleges open Dubai office

The Federation of the Royal Colleges of Physicians of the United Kingdom will open a regional office in Dubai, to boost scientific and medical co-operation between the colleges and Dubai. This follows a recent visit to the city by the heads of the three Royal Medical Colleges in London, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Doctors can now take exams for a British post-graduate medical degree at the local office in Dubai and no longer have to travel to the UK to sit the test.

The MRCP (UK) examination is taken by physicians in training seeking to specialise in a chosen field in their profession.

Examiners from Britain will be partnered by an examiner from the UAE at the test centre but assessment of papers will remain in London.

Liver transplants

According to a report in Gulf News, Kuwait’s Hamed Al Eisa Transplant Centre will soon begin performing liver transplants.

Kuwait’s Minister of Health Dr Mohammed Al Jarallah said: “The scarcity of livers in other states sparked concern and forced us to seriously think about carrying out transplants in Kuwait.”

Al Jarallah also recently opened the Al Nefisi Dialysis Centre in Kuwait, the largest in the Middle East. It will provide care for 422 Kuwaiti and non-Kuwaiti end-stage kidney failure patients.

The newspaper report quotes recent studies as saying the number of children in Kuwait suffering from kidney diseases is significantly higher than international figures and is rising. The number of children suffering from chronic kidney failure in Kuwait is 55 for every one million children annually compared to six to eight children for every one million in Europe and the US.

Diabetes warning

In a hard-hitting speech Dr Oussama Khatib, Regional Advisor on Non-Commu-nicable Diseases for the World Health Organisation in Egypt, warned policy makers that the Gulf region faced a massive surge in diabetes, if the disease was not brought in check.
Speaking at the Arab Health conference in Dubai in January, he said as much as 50 per cent of the local Arab population in the Gulf states were at risk of suffering diabetes-related diseases.

“In the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain, up to one third of the population is obese, and at current levels half of them will get Type II diabetes.

“Diabetes is the fourth largest cause of death in the region, and action from policy makers is needed now to stop deaths from this manageable disease,” he said.
He added that there were few health professionals qualified to deal with the disease in the region. “There is an urgent need for diabetologists, diabetic educators, nutritionists and other diabetes-related healthcare practitioners.

“This region has more than 3.5 million Type II diabetes sufferers and children as young as 10 are being diagnosed with the disease due to obesity, coupled with physical inactivity, an unhealthy diet and hypertension,” Dr Khatib pointed out.

“This problem is now at pandemic proportions, and is a great burden in terms of cost. This is no longer a problem for the individual sufferer, it is a problem for society, for government, it’s a huge social challenge,” he said.

“Effective preventative solutions exist, but these are not being rationally or widely used in the region. While special treatment centres exist, most of them are beyond the reach of ordinary people, and there are still people in the wider region dying of the disease.
“If not addressed now, this will become the most expensive health problem ever faced by regional health care services,” he warned.

Stem cell storage

The UAE is setting up a facility to store stem cells in a move that could have far-reaching health implications for the region.

Gulf News reports that the new technology for the storage of blood and cells has been approved by the UAE’s Ministry of Health, and will be implemented by the Blood Transfusion Department.

Some stem cell types are found in the placenta and umbilical cord and can collected immediately after birth in a process that is safe and painless. The cells can be stored for five to 15 years. Stem cells have the ability to develop into any of the body’s different tissue types.

The importance of stem cells is growing rapidly as research shows cell-based therapies may be used in the treatment of diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis, muscular disorders, diabetes and myocardial infarction.

Lebanese health tourism

Leading tourism companies in Lebanon have recently announced a strategic campaign to promote the country as a regional hub for medical tourism and have tied the campaign to a new obesity treatment - the first of its kind in the Middle East.

Situated at the crossroads between Europe and the Middle East and with its natural scenic beauty and advanced medical facilities, Lebanon is well-placed to attract residents from the region seeking healthcare and recuperation.

Speaking at the launch in Dubai recently, Khalil Malaeb, General Manager of K&M International Health Tourism said, that Lebanon’s highly developed healthcare industry and constantly updated medical technology has contributed to the country’s growing recognition as a centre for medical treatment.

He pointed out that Lebanon was the only country in the region to offer the Gastric Band Pacemaker - a new medical procedure used to treat morbidly obese patients. The device is fitted to the patient’s abdomen and shrinks the stomach thereby reducing the craving for food. The procedure has been tried and tested in Lebanon and is now carried out by specialist physicians.

The health tourism initiative has been endorsed by the National Council of Health and the Lebanese Government.