Children’s hospital bombed

Iraq’s main children’s hospital is operating at less than one third of its full capacity after a bomb attack in December last year, doctors told IRIN News.

The Children’s Central Teaching Hospital in the capital, Baghdad, was hit by a suicide bomb targeting a police official on 19 December. Two security guards and ten staff members were injured in the attack.

“The explosion hit the emergency clinic causing major damage in the surgical departments, laboratories and patients’ rooms, and destroyed much of the medical equipment,” said hospital director Shehab Ahmed al-Azawi.

The teaching hospital, which avoided being hit in past conflicts, is Iraq’s only hospital specialised in children’s medicine.

Al-Azawi added that all surgical procedures had been cancelled since the attack, requiring urgent operations to be carried out in other hospitals not specialised in children’s healthcare.

Following the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq in March 2003, the hospital was refurbished and supplied with equipment and medicines by several international organisations, such as the Italian Red Cross, the UN Children’s Fund, the World Health Organisation and the United Arab Emirates’ Red Crescent Society.

“Even with all the repairs, the hospital was still suffering from shortages of equipment, oxygen bottles and medicine,” said Dr Maha Bashi, a technical manager at the hospital. “After the attack, though, the hospital found itself in a critical condition.”

Dr Bashi noted that the number of available beds has fallen from 365 to only 100.

Ahmed Abdul Kader, an official from the Ministry of Health, said that rebuilding the hospital would require about US$10 million dollars, adding that the Spanish government had offered some funding.

Discrimination fight

Gulf Daily News reports from Bahrain that activists are demanding jobs, a specialist hospital and a social centre for Bahrainis with hereditary blood diseases.

According to the report victims make up a third of the Bahraini population, yet are discriminated against, says the Hereditary Diseases Carriers Rights Committee.

Mohammed Hassan committee co-founder told the newspaper: “People with the hereditary diseases are always sidelined by ministries, particularly in special health and psychological care as well as ideal job opportunities.

“We are demanding a stable government job that takes into consideration sick leave, special annual bonuses, pension schemes and social insurance.”

He also called on the government to set up a hospital that specialises in treating people with hereditary diseases.

Beirut hospital opened

The Clemenceau Medical Center in Beirut, Lebanon, was officially opened on 26 February at a formal ceremony attended by the Prime Minister of Lebanon and other dignitaries.

Clemenceau Medical Center (CMC) is a state-ofthe- art, multi-specialty medical center and the first such facility in the Middle East to be affiliated with Johns Hopkins International (JHI).

Some of the facilities at the centre include: nine operating rooms; same-day surgery unit; Centers of Excellence in several specialties, including cardiology and cardiothoracic surgery, digestive diseases and hepatology, ophthalmology, minimally invasive and colorectal surgery; a state-of-the-art diagnostic and imaging center, including MRI, 64- slice CT and PET/CT; mother and child centre with LDRP suites, NICU and paediatric unit; an international unit with services such as prearrangement for admissions and appointments and logistic support (accommodations, financial services).

The opening ceremony was attended by Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, Dr Mounes Kalaawi CEO Clemenceau Medical Center and Steve Thompson CEO Johns Hopkins Medicine International, among other dignitaries.

Prime Minister Siniora remarked that CMC reflects the image of a new and prosperous Lebanon that was and will always be the centre of excellence in medical care for the region. Dr Kalaawi said: “CMC has the facilities and services to cater to the needs of patients from Lebanon and the Middle East. “We push the boundaries to offer the most advanced options.

Part of CMC’s mission is to continually look for new and better ways of doing things. CMC’s patients will be among the first to benefit from new treatments and technology pioneered by doctors and researchers.” Dr Kalaawi added: “Thanks to our affiliation with Johns Hopkins International and to this renowned institution’s resources of knowledge and services, CMC will deliver the best clinical service to patients from Lebanon and the region.”

According to JHI, the affiliation began in early 2002 with the major goal of building a state-of-the-art healthcare facility to benefit the people of Lebanon and the surrounding region.

The affiliation calls for collaborations in the areas of clinical programme development, patient and quality management services, educational packages for physicians, nurses and technical staff, and the exploration of research activities.

Egypt polio free

Egypt has been declared polio-free for the first time ever by the World Health Organisation (WHO) according to an IRIN News report.

“Over a year has passed since the last sample of polio was found here,” said Faten Kamel, a medical officer with the WHO polio programme in the capital, Cairo. “We can safely say that we have successfully eradicated polio in Egypt.”

A year must pass from the most recent detection of a virus before the WHO can declare a country risk-free.

The last trace of the polio virus in Egypt was registered on 17 January, 2005 in sewage, while the last case of paralysis, which often afflicts sufferers of the disease, was recorded in May 2004. Previously, one case was reported in 2003 and seven in 2002.

Polio is carried only in excrement, and can be transmitted when food or water are tainted with affected sewage. The disease can cause irreversible paralysis in children within hours of infection.

Egypt has the oldest recorded documentation of polio epidemics in the world, with records of infection dating back to Pharaonic times. “Egypt’s battle against polio has been long,” Kamel said. “But the level of campaigning has been such that we have at last reaped the benefits.” Egypt, for example, was one of the first countries to introduce high-intensity immunisation drives.

“In 1989, we introduced biannual immunisation campaigns,” said Kamel. “And in 2002, we launched house-to-house campaigns, counting on tens of thousands of volunteers and health workers to vaccinate children across Egypt.” In 2005, a vaccine for Type 1 polio, designed specifically for the type of virus found in Egypt, was introduced.

The drive for immunisation and eradication has been a multilateral effort. “All our campaigns have counted on the support of independent monitors,” Kamel said. “In addition, collaboration between the WHO, the Ministry of Health and high-level officials including the First Lady Suzanne Mubarak has rendered our work all the more efficient.”

Nevertheless, the WHO does not discount the possibility of a resurgence of the virus, and intends to continue promoting immunisation and prevention. Some countries that have been pronounced polio-free in the past have seen subsequent resurgences of the virus, such as Niger and Somalia. Polio remains endemic in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

Honorary Fellowship

Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and Minister of Finance and Industry, has been conferred honorary fellowships by the Royal Colleges of Physicians of London, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

He was accorded the honours during a ceremony recently at the Dubai World Trade Centre attended by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice- President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, according to a report in Gulf News.

According to the report Shaikh Mohammad paid tribute to Shaikh Hamdan for his constructive role in encouraging scientific research and medical progress in the UAE.

New DG for KHCC

HRH Princess Ghida Talal, the chairperson of the board of trustees of Jordan’s King Hussein Cancer Foundation (KHCF) announced, in late February, the appointment of Dr Mahmoud Sarhan as the new director general of the King Hussein Cancer Centre (KHCC), effective 1 March 2006.

Sarhan replaces Dr Samir Khleif who has been director general of the KHCC from September 2002. The Jordan Times reports that during a meeting of the KHCF board of trustees, Princess Ghida thanked Dr Khleif for the great achievements during his tenure as director general.

She commended him on his dedication in laying the foundation for a cancer centre on par with leading cancer centres worldwide. Dr Sarhan, a highly qualified and respected medical oncologist, has been instrumental in the success of the centre since 2002, according to the newspaper.

He is a Jordanian citizen and a graduate of the University of Jordan's faculty of medicine. He holds three American board certifications and prior to joining the KHCC, he was full professor of pediatrics at Duke University Medical Centre in the US.

At the KHCC, Sarhan held the positions of chairman of pediatrics, director of the Hema-Oncology Fellowship Programme and chairman of the Institutional Review Board. He then became the associate director for medical affairs as well as deputy director of the centre.

Sarhan was in charge of setting up the bone marrow and stem cell transplantation programme at the KHCC and became its director. Established in 1997, the KHCF is a nongovernmental, not-for-profit organisation run by a board of trustees comprising prominent volunteers and chaired by Princess Ghida. The foundation is the legal umbrella organisation responsible for the KHCC.

During the past three years, the KHCC has become a leading medical facility in the Middle East providing comprehensive cancer care to both adult and paediatric patients, treating over 2,800 new cases per year.

KHCC now boasts one of the most advanced telesynergy departments which allows its physicians to have instant clinical interaction and scientific exchange with leading centres and physicians abroad, thus enabling patients to get valuable expert second opinions in difficult cases.

Medical trade up

Dubai’s Ports, Customs & Free Zone Corporation (PCFC) says the regional medical equipment industry is growing by leaps and bounds, with annual trade in medical equipment increasing Dh3.5 billion (US$950 million) in the region, according to trade traffic statistics compiled by the organisation.

The figure represents a 35% growth over the same period last year. Medical, dental and surgical comprise 11% of the total trade through Dubai, while therapeutic medicaments contribute 33%. Solutions comprise 3% of total trade, while antibiotics also contribute 3%.

Diagnostic and laboratory reagents add another 3%, and the remaining 46% consists of miscellaneous instrumentation and technology, as well as therapeutic and remedial medications that fall outside the categories numerated above.

Adel Al Ashram senior manager Department of Statistics (PCFC) said: “Dubai is seeing a rapid increase in the import and re-export of medical equipment, instrumentation, and therapeutic solutions and tablets.

This is due in part to Dubai’s increasing stature as regional re-export epicenter, and also due to the fact that the health sector in the Middle East is burgeoning, with a vast array of new projects being developed.”

He added: “Many Arab countries are upgrading their health sectors and medical infrastructure. A new trend is the inculcation of holistic treatment centres that provide a vast range of therapies and treatment, and are being promoted as a healthy way of life.”

He said he expected to see this trend continue in coming years. The USA ranked first on the list of importers to Dubai, with overall medical imports reaching Dh333 million. Germany was second with imports of Dh308 million, while the UK, China and Switzerland totaled Dh240 million, Dh141 million and Dh133 million respectively.

Of the total trade in medical equipment, imports comprised 74.8%, while export and re-export amounted to 25.1%.

Research facility on cards

The Royal Medical Research Institute in Bahrain could become reality if Bahraini Cabinet discussions progress positively.

Gulf Daily News reports that ministers of parliament voted unanimously in favour of the proposal in mid-February.

The facility would be based at the Salmaniya Medical Complex. The institute's board would be chaired by the Health Minister, with the Arabian Gulf University president as vice-chairman, the newspaper reported.

Saudi dengue

Health officials in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia raised the alarm with a reported four deaths due to dengue fever in the first two months of this year.

They said the number of deaths is particularly high considering the short time frame and that the disease is rarely fatal, according to a report in Arab News.

“This requires us to research the causes in order to prevent further deaths,” Yaqoub Al-Mazrou, deputy minister of health for preventive medicine, told the newspaper.

In 2004 there were 291 cases and two fatalities. In 2005 there were 305 cases without deaths. In the first two months of 2006 there were 143 cases and four deaths, he said.

Yaser Al-Ghamdi, director of health affairs in Makkah Region told Arab News the government was making use of the Singapore experience to combat the disease by buying 300 Ovi Traps from that country. He said Singapore had vastly reduced the prevalence of dengue fever with the traps.

Welcare expansion

Welcare Hospital, one of Dubai’s premier multispecialty, critical care private hospitals, has spent Dh15 million (US$4.08 million) on expansion and acquisition of state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment.

Hospital officials made the announcement recently during the inauguration of 17 new private inpatient rooms at the hospital.

Some of the new diagnostic equipment includes a GE 1.5T MR and a GE 16-slice CT scanner. In addition, the Radiology Department has been equipped with a RIS/PACS system making it a fully digital department.

Other enhancements include two additional fullfeatured operating theatres, bringing the hospital’s total to four, and a neonatal intensive care unit with four incubators able to treat babies up to six weeks premature.

Welcare Hospital is part of Welcare World Health Systems, a leading healthcare consultancy and management firm based in Dubai. The expansion at Welcare Hospital will be followed by the launch of the Welcare Eye Centre in Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC) and, in 2007, a Welcare-managed specialty hospital.

Yemen measles

A massive vaccination drive against measles began late February in an effort to stamp out a disease that kills between 5,000 and 10,000 Yemeni children ever year.

For the first time in the country, the campaign is targeting children over 18 months old as part of a global campaign to eradicate the contagious disease. “At least one third of children in Yemen were never given the vaccine,” Naseem Ur Rehman, a UNICEF spokesman in the capital, Sana’a, told IRIN News.

“Although the disease affects mostly young children, older children can still become infected.” The campaign, run by the health ministry in co-operation with UNICEF and the World Health Organisation from 19 to 25 February, targeted children between nine months and 15 years old in the three highly populated provinces of Sana’a, Hodeida and Ibb, as well as Sana’a city.

Over 16,300 villages and 4,100 schools in these areas were expected to be covered by mobile vaccination teams and temporary medical sites in mosques, schools and health facilities.

Minister of Public Health and Population Dr Abdul Kareem Rase said that 33% of Yemen’s targeted children lived in these three provinces. “In areas of high population density like Ibb, Hodeidah and Sana’a, where many people live close together, the disease can spread extremely easily,” Rehman noted.

Subsequent campaigns will hone in on the remainder of Yemen’s nine million children. Measles – one of the most contagious diseases in the world – remains a leading cause of death among young children, despite the availability of an effective vaccine for the past 40 years.

According to Rehman, measles are responsible for about 12% of all child deaths in Yemen. “In 2005, about 80,000 cases were reported all over the country,” he said.

Yemen polio fatwa

IRIN News reports from Sana’a, Yemen that a prominent Muslim cleric issued a religious decree, or fatwa, at the end of January advising parents to have their children immunised against polio.

“We have verified the vaccines and we have found that vaccination campaigns are being undertaken with good intentions,” stated the religious pronouncement, a copy of which was obtained by IRIN. “So there is no objection to giving vaccines to children.”

The decree was issued on 29 January by Mohammed Abdullah al-Emam, one of Yemen’s best-known Salafi clerics, who runs a religious centre in the town of Mabar, some 70 km south of the capital, Sana’a. Health officials have since reported that parents who had been sceptical about the immunisation drive were now “very cooperative”.

A three-day campaign against polio was launched on 29 January, targeting about four million children nationwide. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Yemen accounted for 36% of the 1,310 cases of polio registered worldwide during the first nine months of 2005. Between April and November of last year, the health ministry confirmed a total of 473 polio cases, including six fatalities.

The WHO declared the country to be polio-free in 1996. During earlier immunisation campaigns in 2005, many parents refused vaccinations for their children, believing that the shots could result in infertility. A number of local religious leaders had also cautioned parents that vaccinations were dangerous.

Following al-Emam’s decree, however, health workers have noticed a sea change in popular attitudes. “People who previously refused vaccines for religious reasons welcomed health workers,” said Mohammed al-Tam, a government health director in the Jahran district.

“We’ve given a copy of the fatwa to every health worker in the area to convince parents that vaccines are not harmful,” he said. Before issuing the pronouncement, al-Emam met a number of doctors and officials from the health ministry. “We explained that the purpose of the vaccines was only to protect our children from the fatal illness,” he added.

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