World Malaria Day marked with call to focus efforts

The WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region marked World Malaria Day on April 25 with the theme: “Invest in the future. Defeat malaria”. The WHO points out that malaria is still a big challenge for the Eastern

Mediterranean Region, as more than 50% of the regional population lives in areas in which there is a risk of contracting malaria. Based on 2010 estimates, about 10.4 million people were affected by malaria and 15,000 people die of malaria in the region every year.

Dr Ala Alwan, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, urged stronger and improved efforts in the fight against malaria. “We need to focus our efforts in areas of greatest need and protect every person living in areas at risk of malaria with effective prevention tools.”

Malaria control efforts continue to be restrained by low political commitment, weak infrastructure and lack of national capacities, according to the WHO. Malaria is not just a problem for the Eastern Mediterranean Region alone; the disease continues to kill an estimated 660,000 people worldwide, mainly children under five years of age in sub-Saharan Africa. Every year, more than 200 million cases occur; most of these are never tested or registered.

The WHO T3 (Test. Treat. Track.) programme is an essential approach in guiding countries to ensure that every suspected malaria case is tested, and every confirmed case is treated and tracked effectively through surveillance to stop transmission.

The region has had several successes in its fight against malaria in the last decade since the launch of Roll Back Malaria initiative, according to the WHO. In 2000, 10 countries in the region were free from malaria, a number which rose to 14 in 2010 with two further countries vigorously pursuing elimination targets.

The region has prioritized malaria control and elimination with the aim of providing universal access to malaria diagnosis and effective treatment, including artemisinin-based combination therapy for falciparum species, along with prevention through effective vector control.

Despite the gains made globally in malaria prevention and control, global funding for malaria control has seen a decline and emerging drug and insecticide resistance threaten to reverse recent progress made. Global efforts in the fight against malaria are at a critical juncture with only two years left to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

Since 2000, malaria mortality rates have fallen by more than 25%, and 50 of the 99 countries with ongoing transmission are now on track to meet the 2015 World Health Assembly target of reducing incidence rates by more than 75%. A major scale-up of vector control interventions, together with increased access to diagnostic testing and quality-assured treatment, has been key to this progress.

Grand Imam supports polio vaccination in Muslim countries

The World Health Organization Eastern Mediterranean Region issued a press statement saying the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Cairo, Dr Ahmad Al Tayyeb, called for the protection of Muslim children against poliovirus transmission by ensuring they receive the required polio vaccine. He stressed the importance of increasing the awareness of the correct Islamic teachings on the subject to combat misinformation, and confirmed that Al-Azhar is ready to continue to exert all efforts to enlighten Muslim individuals and communities about the rights of children to be protected against polio and all other diseases and the obligation of all Muslims to ensure that their children are protected.

This was announced in March at a meeting held at Al-Azhar during which the Grand Imam met with Muslim scholars from several countries. The scholars expressed their solidarity with the children of the Islamic world and reaffirmed their resolve to support the people, health workers and governments of the three countries where polio is not yet eradicated, namely Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, launched in 1988 by the health ministers of the Member States of the WHO, has been successful in stopping the transmission of this crippling disease in all but these three countries of the world. Except for in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, Muslim communities and countries everywhere have eradicated polio, including 54 out of 57 member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) that have successfully interrupted transmission of wild poliovirus. This has been achieved through the application of proven eradication strategies, the administration of the safe oral polio vaccine and with financial and political support from the Islamic world.

Forum raises awareness of prevalence of COPD in the region

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and productive cough is rapidly increasing in the MENA region, according to doctors speaking at the 2nd Regional Respiratory Forum hosted by Boehringer Ingelheim, in Dubai, in April.

According to speakers at the forum, 13 million people in the region suffer from COPD, and it is estmated that, 1.9% of the UAE’s population suffers from COPD. It was observed that 63% COPD patients remain untreated in the UAE, the highest figure in the MENA region.

The main aim of this year’s conference was to create awareness of the importance of diagnosing and treating COPD. During the forum, Professor David Halpin, Consultant Physician & Honorary Associate Professor, revealed new bronchodilator therapies that were recently launched for the treatment of COPD, highlighting evidence of the short-term efficacy of these drugs. He also highlighted the role of other new therapies for COPD including evidence regarding anti-inflammatory therapies and therapies that modulate mucus secretion, as well as considering novel interventional bronchoscopy techniques to achieve lung volume reduction.

At the forum, Prof. Dr. Mirna Waked, Head of the Pulmonary Division at St George Hospital University Medical Center in Lebanon, highlighted that diagnosing COPD without spirometry is still a challenge. To date, COPD remains largely undiagnosed and the only way to determine COPD is through spirometry which is selectively available in the region in tertiary care centers only, he said.

Given that COPD is expected to become the third leading cause of mortality in 2020 (according to the BREATHE study published in Respiratory Medicine in December 2012) there is a great need to develop a scale for diagnosis of the disease. This has led Dr. Waked to develop a simple diagnostic score including risk factors and symptoms with good predictive value for positive diagnosis of COPD and high negative predictive value excluding COPD. The properties of the score are superior to other scores developed previously; more importantly, they allow for rapid diagnosis for COPD in primary care centres which can potentially decrease the percentage of untreated patients in the region.

The forum took place in the presence of more than 300 senior pulmonologists, internists, respiratory therapists, medical specialists, and professors representing the healthcare industry from UK, South Africa, Italy, Germany, GCC countries, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Iraq, Libya and Jordan.

Qatar’s HMC partners with Institute for Healthcare Improvement

Qatar’s Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) has signed a strategic agreement with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) which will see IHI faculty work collaboratively with HMC staff, particularly HMC’s Center for Healthcare Improvement (CHI) to examine new and innovative ways to achieve the safest and most effective quality of healthcare in the region and enhance the patient’s experience at HMC.

“Our staff and our patients will see real and lasting benefits from the close interaction with IHI in the field of quality improvement,” said Hanan Al Kuwari PhD, Managing Director of HMC. “They have worked with healthcare providers and organizations around the globe and will bring their expertise to Qatar to enable HMC to continue its commitment to delivering high quality patient care.” IHI is an independent not-for-profit organization that works with health care providers and leaders throughout the world to achieve demonstrable outcomes in safe and effective health care.

Maureen Bisognano, President and CEO of IHI, said: “We are motivated by a vision of a future in which everyone has the best care and health possible and we have worked for over 25 years to fulfill this vision by assembling a unique team that works collaboratively with our partners.”

The collaboration with IHI will include a focus on understanding HMC’s current patient safety culture and review how teams within the organization can work together to improve the quality of care.

The agreement also includes IHI’s support to host the Middle East Forum on Quality Improvement in Healthcare (17- 19 May, 2013 in Doha).

Mediclinic signs MOU with Swiss hospital for obesity surgery

Mediclinic Middle East has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with its sister company in Switzerland, Hirslanden Private Hospital Group, which will see Hirslanden providing consultative services to Mediclinic Middle East in the area of obesity surgery.

The agreement got underway with a visit in March by Dr. Martin Thurnheer from Hirslanden to Mediclinic City Hospital, Dubai, where he inspected facilities for obesity surgery, conducted a workshop and training sessions for relevant hospital staff and introduced the services to the wider doctor community.

Dr Thurnheer MD was instrumental in the establishment of the eSwiss Medical and Surgical Center in collaboration with Hirslanden Clinic Stephenshorn, St Gallen, Switzerland in December last year and was previously head of Bariatric Surgery at the Cantonal Hospital, St. Gallen.

New test for Down’s launched in UAE

Eastern Biotech and Life Sciences, Dubai has launched a non-invasive Prenatal Diagnostic Test in the UAE to detect Trisomy, a genetic mutation that leads to Down’s Syndrome. The diagnostic test detects Cell Free Fetal DNA in the maternal blood to make the diagnosis.

The accuracy of the new test in larger studies is 99.9% – making this new diagnostic modality the most accurate diagnostic test of its kind available, according to Eastern Biotech.

Further, this genetic test now makes it possible to predict at as early as 11 weeks, if the foetus is carrying the genetic mutation that leads to Down’s Syndrome.

Eastern Biotech has partnered with BGI Health laboratories based in Hong Kong to bring this test to the UAE and other GCC countries. In the UAE the test is being marketed under the name Trigene.

Oman’s first Prometric medical exam centre opens

Oman’s Minister of Health Dr Ahmed Bin Mohammed Al Saidi, Oman Medical Specialty Board (OMSB) Executive President Dr Abdullah Al Fustaisi and senior Prometric executives formerly opened a new, state-of-the-art test center for OMSB and international exams.

The computer-based exams will help ensure OMSB medical standards are met by candidates seeking to practice medicine and deliver healthcare services in Oman and ensure that healthcare quality is aligned with the Sultanate’s national Health System 2020 policy as developed by the ministry. The facility is the first Prometric testing center in Oman.

After completion of training in specialty programs and passing all required examinations, OMSB Residents obtain the Oman Specialty Board Certificate, the equivalent of a Ph.D. in medical specializations.

Dr Abdullah Al Fustaisi said: “The Prometric Center offers an admission for 22 medical specialty exams via Internet at the moment, which include Obstetrics & Gynecology, General Surgery, Anesthesia, Cosmetic Surgery, Neurosurgery, Emergency Medicine, Ophthalmology and many others. In addition, other related examinations could be taken at this center, such as: American Board Exam, PMP, TOEFL, and other exams.”

He added that more exams will be added to the list.

International Society of Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research launched in Qatar

The College of Pharmacy at Qatar University has launched the Qatar Chapter of the International Society of Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research (ISPOR). The Chapter is officially affiliated with ISPOR, based in New Jersey, USA, which is recognized globally as the authority for outcomes research and its application in health care.

ISPOR promotes pharmacoeconomics and outcomes research, and encourages the efficiency, effectiveness, and fairness of health care decisions to improve health.

The ISPOR Qatar Chapter is the first of its kind, in relation to supporting the advancement of the outcomes research practices at a “local level” in Qatar, which in turn will result in bilateral access to programs and benefits. It is a nonprofit society and includes researchers, health care practitioners and decision makers, and regulatory and educational groups in Qatar.

Specific objectives of the ISPOR Qatar Chapter are to:

- Conduct workshops to develop understanding of pharmacoeconomics and outcomes research in Qatar.

-  Act as a resource at a local level for individuals interested in conducting pharmacoeconomics and outcomes research.

- Serve as a forum in bringing together the academic researchers, health care practitioners, and decision makers interested in pharmacoeconomics and outcomes research.

- Provide an environment in which researchers, health care practitioners, and decision makers, who are interested in pharmacoeconomics and outcomes research, can share knowledge at a country level.

The chapter has recently initiated a number of Qatar-based research activities, and is currently in the process of organizing relevant educational activities for 2013/14, including in collaboration with Hamad Medical Corporation.

Sanofi Biosurgery set to bring new implant material for knee surgery to the region

Sanofi Biosurgery, a division of Sanofi that focuses on the development of innovative biological products, is working towards bringing the MACI (Matrix-induced Autologous Chondrocyte Implant) implant to the region as demand for knee surgeries increase.

Prof. Dr. Gerald Zimmerman, Orthopaedic and Trauma Surgeon at German Medical Center, said that in the UAE, many young people engage in sports, especially football, so these age groups often have articular cartilage damage in the knee joint.

“These defects are always a challenge and force athletes or enthusiasts to stop practicing sports. The MACI implant has a strong track record of effectively repairing this damage, reduce pain significantly and allows patients to return to their activities,” he said.

Prof. Zimmerman gave a talk on the MACI at the International Congress Joint Reconstruction Middle East Conference in March.

He explained that the MACI implant uses a patient’s own (autologous) cultured cartilage cells (chondrocytes) to repair the articular cartilage damage in the knee joint.

Ayman Mohktar, General Manager, Sanofi Gulf, said: “MACI may offer orthopaedic specialists in the UAE and Middle East an advanced, minimally invasive product to treat patients with debilitating knee pain from articular cartilage injuries in the knee. Successful treatment can significantly reduce pain and permit patients to regain function, increasing their quality of life.”

WHO EMRO marks World Health Day with call for increased awareness of hypertension

The WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean celebrated World Health Day on 7 April, with a theme focussed on high blood pressure, or hypertension. WHO is calling for intensified efforts to prevent and control hypertension, which, worldwide, is estimated to affect more than one in three adults aged 25 and over, or about one billion people.

Dr Ala Alwan, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean highlighted the importance of measuring blood pressure regularly. He urged governments to increase public awareness of this health issue.

The prevalence of hypertension can be reduced by addressing behavioural risk factors and raising people’s awareness of the importance of: following a balanced diet, reducing salt intake, avoiding tobacco use and harmful use of alcohol, engaging in regular physical activity and adopting a healthy lifestyle.

Hypertension is one of the most important contributors to heart attacks and stroke.

In the Eastern Mediterranean Region, with a population of 600 million people, the rates of physical inactivity are higher than in any other region in the world. Overall, more than a third of men and nearly half of women in the region are physically inactive. Around 50% of adults in the region are overweight and in some countries more than 70% of women and an increasing number of children are overweight. In some countries of the region more than 50% of men use tobacco.

Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO said: “Our aim today is to make people aware of the need to know their blood pressure, to take high blood pressure seriously, and then to take control.” 


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