Yemen khat cancer

Health officials in Yemen say illegal pesticides used in the cultivation of khat [a mild narcotic popular in Yemen and the Horn of Africa], fruit and vegetables cause 16,000-17,000 cancer cases each year, according to IRIN News.

Nadeem Mohammed Sa’eed, director of the National Cancer Centre in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, said several pesticides were toxic and their prolonged use could cause serious diseases, including cancer.

“As a result of the use of pesticides for khat and vegetable cultivation, about 30% of Yemeni cancer patients have mouth and gum cancers. This is really a frightening figure and represents one of the world’s highest rates for mouth and gum cancers,” he said. What is more worrying, according to Ahmed al- Haddad, head of community medicine at Sana’a University Medical College, is that 70% of pesticides used on khat are illegal and are smuggled into the country.

“The chewing of khat is one of the main causes of cancer of the digestive system and kidney failure and that it is partly due to the pesticides sprayed on khat plants,” said Haddad.

Khat is very popular in Yemen, giving farmers a significant income and because of this, they use pesticides and fertilisers to make the plant grow faster, said Abdullah Baasher, chairman of the General Establishment for Agricultural Services.

Agriculture Minister Jalal Faqirah said his ministry had tried to reduce the licences granted for imports of pesticides after the ministry discovered unlicensed pesticide stores in Sana’a.

“We are trying, in co-operation with the [Sana’a] city officials to free the city from pesticide and chemical shops,” he said.

A government report last November said there was brisk trade in pesticides and fertilisers because the code controlling them, which was issued in 1999, had not been enacted. 

Abu Dhabi Health Authority

UAE president His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in his capacity as the Ruler of Abu Dhabi, on 12 February issued a law establishing the Abu Dhabi Health Authority. This new authority replaces the General Authority for Health Services (GAHS).

The law No 1 for 2007 stipulates that the authority will be a corporate body with legal capacity that enjoys full administrative and financial independence. According to the law, the Abu Dhabi Health Authority will be responsible for improving the quality of health services in the emirate and drawing up policies in the areas of curative, clinical and preventive medical services.

It will be based in Abu Dhabi and may have branches and offices inside and outside the emirate. The jurisdiction of the authority include laying down policies and public health programmes and following up their implementation with the concerned authorities. It will also assume the responsibility of issuing all regulations and rules required to achieve its goals, conducting research and studies and looking into complaints submitted by the public. Coordinating with local and international medical institutions in order to supply medical sectors in the emirate with all their requirements is another responsibility of the new authority.

The authority will have an independent budget, generated from allocations by Abu Dhabi government, authority’s income, assistance and grants and other income as decided by the Abu Dhabi Executive Council.

The authority’s funds are considered as public money subject to all regulations and rules in this respect. Since this authority replaces the GAHS, it will take over all assets, rights and commitments of the GAHS.

Employees of the GAHS will be transferred to the new authority with the same rights and privileges, and will continue to practice their professions, under civil service and pension rules. 

Hepatitis call centre

The Abu Dhabi-based Al Jazira Sports and Health Foundation has launched a 24-hour hepatitis call center service to serve the region.

The initiative is part of an extensive hepatitis public awareness campaign by the Foundation, a non-profit organisation.

The call centre follows the establishment in the United Arab Emirates in February last year of the National Committee for Hepatitis Awareness.

The main mission of the Foundation is to promote healthy living, especially among young children.

The call center can be reached by dialling 800- 3211 in the UAE. The centre takes calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

Luxury medical

In a move to cut out waiting in long queues the Department of Health and Medical Services in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, is offering – for a small fee – a more convenient, quicker and more comfortable way to process all visa-related medical check-ups and tests.

The Executive Health Screening Service is located at various strategic locations throughout the city. As immigration into Dubai continues to soar the new service is expected to ease congestion at a handful of DoHMS clinics where medical check-ups for residence visas have traditionally been carried out.

Part of the luxury service includes delivery of the test results and health card to the customer’s door the same day. 

Downs surgical in Saudi

Downs Surgical, the UK’s premier surgical instrument manufacturer, has established a partnership with Saudi Arabia-based distributor Al Hammad Medical Services, based in Riyadh.

Al Hammad Medical Services operate a modern distribution network of medical, pharmaceutical and laboratory products throughout Saudi Arabia.

Downs Surgical says that with its flourishing healthcare sector, the Middle East is a key area of interest.

Steve Spurgin, International Business Manager at Downs Surgical, said: “We’re delighted about the new partnership with Al Hammad Medical Services, as they pride themselves on having the strong financial backing of a large company, but also provide the fast, dynamic and precise action smaller companies are renowned for.” 

Credentials check

The General Authority for Health Services (GAHS), now the Abu Dhabi Health Authority, in charge of medical affairs in the UAE Emirate of Abu Dhabi, announced in late January that that it had signed an agreement with IntegraScreen, a leading international document verification and screening company, to outsource the verification of the credentials of healthcare workers who apply to be licensed.

This forms part of a major new initiative to enhance its background checking process for health professionals. Zaid Al Siksek, director of Health Policy and Regulation, GAHS, said “the initiative will ensure that the process is completed as accurately and efficiently as possible. The GAHS background check programme helps to ensure that the public is protected from unqualified and fraudulent healthcare workers, in line with best international standards and practices”. Al Siksek added that the programme would not introduce delays into the licensing process.

Under the scheme, when a health professional applies for a license the applicant’s medical qualification, license and work experience will be checked and verified by IntegraScreen. In most cases, these credentials will be verified within 30 days, allowing a swift processing of the license application.

IntegraScreen is a leading provider of document verification and screening services. It currently runs the UAE Ministry of Labour’s highly successful degree verification programme. This programme authenticates the educational qualifications of international job applicants and has uncovered over 500 fake qualifications in the past year in addition to over 350 qualifications from bogus universities. 

Doha’s HMC accredited

Doha, Qatar-based Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) announced in January they have been accredited by the prestigious Joint Commission International (JCI), an international body that assesses and accredits medical centres around the world.

HMC said the achievement follows three years of commitment and hard work from each and every member of the entire HMC team of 15,000 people, from the neurologists to the triage nurses, who have come together and brought HMC up to the global standards set by JCI.

In order to gain the JCI accreditation, HMC had to undergo rigorous audits and needed to ensure and prove that all of the criteria set by JCI were met or exceeded, including the coverage and quality of patient care from entry to discharge, the leadership responsibility, accountability and strategic management, adherence to standards for patient safety and risk reduction in clinical processes.

HMC is a state-of-the-art integrated medical system comprising Hamad General Hospital, which has 616 beds covering all medical areas, with specialties in surgery, paediatrics, internal medicine, anaesthesiology, laboratory medicine and pathology; the Women’s Hospital, which has 334 beds and a 71-bed neonatal intensive care unit; the 362- bed Rumailah Hospital, which is currently being renovated from a rehabilitation centre into a general hospital, although it will continue to serve as a centre for physical therapy; the Al Amal Hospital, a pioneering centre for tumour diagnosis and specialised treatment of cancer; and the newest hospital, Al-Khor, which opened in May 2005. It provides integrated medical, health and diagnostic services to the people in the northern areas of Qatar. It houses a medical laboratory, a blood bank, an emergency unit specifically for children in addition to a regular emergency unit, 119 beds and eight state-of-the-art wings for surgical operations. 

HMSDC awards

The Harvard Medical School Dubai Center (HMSDC) Institute for Postgraduate Education and Research announced the launch of the HMSDC Tamayoz Awards to recognise excellence in clinical care and medical research. The awards will be conferred on 19 April and will honour contributions by medical trainees, young physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals throughout the GCC.

Dr Robert L Thurer, HMSDC chief academic officer, said: “Through these awards, HMSDC and our colleagues at Dubai Healthcare City will acknowledge the importance of medical education and research to the delivery of quality healthcare. It is hoped this initiative will motivate outstanding members of the healthcare community to pursue careers in academic medicine.” The HMSDC Tamayoz Awards invites applications from healthcare workers and professionals in three main categories, for two nominations in each field. In each category, applicants are required to validate their achievement in either clinical care or research. All nominees must be under 40 years of age as of 10 March, 2007, which is also the deadline for the submission of applications.

The ‘Trainee Awards’ will acknowledge the work of medical interns, residents and fellows and the ‘Young Physician Awards’ will recognise physicians who have completed postgraduate training.

The ‘Nursing and Healthcare Professional Awards’ will honour nurses and allied health professionals active in clinical practice or employed as medical educators, while the ‘Awards for Research’ will recognise outstanding clinical, translational or basic work that leads to the creation of new knowledge in health-related fields.

For more information visit: 

Sexual health

Doctors and healthcare professionals met in Dubai in early February to examine sexual medicine and its impact on lifestyle and happiness.

The 3rd Biennial Conference of the Pan-Arab Society for Sexual Medicine brought together physicians from across the region to learn from a panel of distinguished international experts.

Speakers at the event included Dr Rosie King, founding member of the Australian Center for Sexual Health at St Luke’s Hospital in Sydney and Professor Farid Saad, Research Department at the Gulf Medical College School of Medicine, Ajman, United Arab Emirates.

At the conference results were presented from one of the largest global surveys of sexual health in which 12,563 men and women from 27 countries were interviewed, including Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, Turkey and Malaysia. The results offered a unique insight into the state of sexual health and happiness. Among the startling finding of the Global Better Sex Survey (GBSS) was that more than half the world’s men and women are not fully satisfied with their sex lives. In the Middle East 57% of couples are not fully satisfied with their sex lives.

In the UAE 40% of men and 62% of women said they were “very satisfied” with their love lives, compared to 46% of men and 49% of women in Kuwait. In Egypt 39% of men and 41% of women report that they were “very satisfied.”

The study also demonstrated the positive role that physicians can play in helping to increase the levels of satisfaction. “The GBSS is important because, for the first time, it reveals the extent of sexual dissatisfaction experienced by couples around the globe, with a specific focus on regions like the Middle East,” said Dr King, an expert consultant to the GBSS project.

Dr King believes that there is a clear link between the GBSS findings and new clinical studies that suggest a lack of complete sexual satisfaction in some men may be driven by physical rather than psychological factors. By addressing these ‘physical’ attributes, Dr King believes couples can be helped to achieve greater sexual satisfaction. 

Rheumatology tracking

The region’s first rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patient assessment programme was launched by Medsites at Arab Health 2007, supported by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. The programme is designed for use by rheumatologists across the Middle East and North Africa region.

The web-based programme can track a patient’s improvement with his or her current treatment, and allows rheumatologists to conduct long term followup for RA disease activity.

A chronic autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis affects one per cent of the population, and three times more women than men. The portal, accessible at, prompts the user to provide specific information in relation to patient demographics, diagnosis, disease severity scores, co-existing conditions such as heart disease or diabetes, treatment history and current treatment.

Dr Mustafa Al Izzi, consultant rheumatologist at Mafraq Hospital and moderator of the UAE Rheumatology Club, said: “The patient assessment programme will give rheumatologists a tool to unify measures for disease activity. We hope that this database will facilitate the day-to-day activity of doctors and improve the diagnosis and management of the disease in treating our RA patients.”

The programme will be managed by IT software company Medsites to ensure patient confidentiality. 

IFC $37m for SGH Group

In response to a strong need for private medical services in Egypt and Yemen, the International Finance Corporation, the private sector arm of the World Bank Group, will support the Middle East and North Africa’s health care industry by financing the expansion of the Saudi German Hospitals Group.

IFC will provide US$37 million financing to support a new hospital in Sana’a, Yemen, and the construction of a hospital in Cairo, Egypt.

Saudi German Hospitals Group has been a major participant in Saudi Arabia’s health sector since 1988, and the group owns and operates five hospitals. The 300-bed, multispecialty hospital in Sana’a, which opened in June 2006, and a hospital of similar size under construction in Cairo will raise considerably the standard of medical care in both countries.

Guy Ellena, IFC’s health and education director, noted: “IFC is very happy to support Saudi German Hospitals Group in a project that will provide a benchmark of excellence and raise the standards of health care in Egypt and Yemen. We also share with the group a belief in the need for ‘South- South’ investment and are keen to help them bring better medical services to underdeveloped markets across the region.”

Michael Essex, IFC director for the Middle East and North Africa, added, “The hospitals in Egypt and Yemen will relieve the growing burden on the public health system in these countries, stimulate the development of private health insurance, increase employment opportunities for local health care professionals, and facilitate the international exchange of best medical and management practice across the group.”

Sobhi Abduljaleel Batterjee, president of the Saudi German Hospitals Group, said: “The new hospitals in Yemen and in Egypt represent the first steps in a larger strategy to bring highquality medical care to the Middle East and North Africa, especially where better services are most needed. We are delighted that IFC shares our vision in this regard.” 

Sharjah hospital

His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, on 28 January opened the Dh370-million (US$100 million) Royal Hospital in Sharjah. Sheikh Sultan praised the efforts made to set up the state-ofthe art 160-bed hospital, saying that it will add value to the healthcare services in the country. He also expressed the hope that the hospital will play a vital role in the provision of treatment of chronic diseases and performing critical surgeries.   

Al Zahra gets 3T MRI

In a move that will revolutionise the diagnostics in the region, Al Zahra Hospital, Sharjah, UAE, has announced that it is acquiring the world’s most advanced commercially available MRI equipment. The 3.0 Tesla MRI scanner from Philips Medical Systems is the first of its kind in the UAE.   

Saudi doctors scrutinised

Saudi health authorities are cracking down on unscrupulous doctors who try to work in the kingdom using forged medical qualifications.

According to a report in Gulf News authorities in Saudi Arabia uncovered about 4,000 forged certificates for various medical specialisations during 2006. The Saudi Health Specialisations Commission (SHSC), the body monitoring and evaluating health and medical documents in the kingdom, said the forged certificates were found among 20,870 medical and health certificates presented to the Commission for scrutiny last year.

The newspaper highlighted, as an example, a 35- year-old man who had been deceiving the authorities with forged documents for the past couple of years. The man had operated a woman-only dermatology clinic in Jeddah. 

Psychiatric hospital

A new specialised psychiatric centre is planned for Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, the first in the emirate. It will provide dedicated mental health services for patients in the emirate and the rest of the UAE. The groundbreaking project, aimed at providing a new level of quality psychiatric care and treatment in the UAE, was commissioned by Sheikha Jameela bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, director general of the Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services and vice president of the Family Supreme Council in Sharjah. The mental health facility, Ishaa’q bin Omran Specialised Psychiatric Centre, will also be the first private psychiatric hospital in the UAE and is expected to be fully operational by the third quarter 2008. 

Saudi AIDS society

Princess Alia Bint Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz, chairperson of Saudi Arabia’s Social Service Program, has announced the formation of a society to help AIDS patients overcome social isolation and rejection., The Saudi Gazette reported (17 February).

The newspaper said Princess Alia will be the honorary president of the society, which was expected to start functioning in March in Jeddah.

She was quoted as saying the basic objectives of the society were to find jobs for HIV positive patients and enable them to speak about the problems and find ways to solve them.

“We need to address society about the importance of accepting this group of patients rather than stigmatizing them socially,” she said. “We should not pity them because this harms them. If they are psychologically destroyed, then they will lose hope in the treatment. We need to give them hope by integrating them in society. We should not alienate them,” she said.

The newspaper said the AIDS Society would also be responsible for AIDSrelated training courses for officials. 

Molecular imaging centre

Siemens is to build and operate a specialist molecular imaging centre (MIC) in Abu Dhabi, the first of its kind in the region. The centre will house a Siemens PET CT scanner, a cyclotron radioisotope delivery system and other state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment.

The announcement follows the signing of a contract between Siemens and Abu Dhabi Government-owned Mubadala Development. The contract was signed by Waleed Al Mokarrab Al Muhairi, chief operating officer for Mubadala and Peter Fuchs, chief executive officer, Siemens. Also attending the signing ceremony was Her Excellency Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor and Her Highness Sheikha Lubna Al Qassimi, UAE’s Minister for Economy.

The US$21.7 million three-phased contract entails designing, building, operation and maintenance of the MIC. The facility is scheduled to open during the second half of 2008. The cyclotron is a particle accelerator that produces high yields of reliable radioisotope biomarkers, which are essential for accurate PET diagnosis.

As well as supplying Mubadala’s Molecular Imaging Center, the plan is to enable other diagnostic facilities in the vicinity to also have access to this important technology. Fuchs said: “We have already developed similar facilities in the US, UK, Germany and Hungary. So we’ll be bringing in our expertise and experience of building such facilities to the MIC here. The new imaging centre in Abu Dhabi will mean that this cutting-edge diagnostic technology is available to patients in this region.”  


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