WHO EMRO observatory

The World Health Organisation Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office has set up a Health Systems Observatory website to promote evidence-based health policy making by providing useful and comparative information about the health systems and reforms of each of the member countries. The initiative will also assist policy makers in the development of health systems in their countries.

The ultimate aim of the observatory is to improve performance and outcomes of each country’s health system.

The main contents of the observatory include health system profiles for all member states; a health system database that allows comparison of key indicators overtime and across countries; and a resource centre that includes technical and policy papers, publications, research activities and reports of meetings and capacity building workshops organised by the Regional Office in the area of health systems and services development.

The website can be accessed here: http://gis.emro.who.int/healthsystemobservatory/main/Forms/main.aspx

AHD lab accredited

The American Hospital Dubai (AHD) Laboratory has been awarded an accreditation by the Commission on Laboratory Accreditation of the College of American Pathologists (CAP).

The AHD Laboratory is one of the more than 6,000 CAP-accredited laboratories worldwide and the first private laboratory in the Middle East to achieve CAP accreditation since 2001. The laboratory was also the first private laboratory in the region to be accredited by CAP.

Mandatory health check-up

The UAE’s Khaleej Times reports that the Ministry of Health has made annual medical check-ups compulsory for UAE nationals.

According to the report Dr Mariam Mattar, assistant undersecretary for Public Health and Primary Health Care at the MoH, said the annual health check-up for nationals would be free. She added that in the future the MoH would make the annual health check-up mandatory for expatriates.

The check-ups are part of the MoH’s newly reorganised Primary Healthcare Programme. Dr Mattar said a pilot project was launched in July at two Primary Health Care Centres (PHCC) in Sharjah to test the best way to carry out the annual check-ups.

“People of all ages, including children, will be required to undergo the annual health check-up at a PHCC. However, how often they are required to have the check-up will depend on their health, age and other vital factors,” said Dr Mattar.

The newspaper quoted Dr Haifa Hamd, deputy director, Central Department for Technical Affairs, Primary Health Care at the MoH, as saying: “The [annual health check] programme is based on international standards but has been adapted to suit the local population.”

He added that it would include radiology and laboratory tests, if required, for early detection and prevention of diseases.

Dubai health insurance

The Dubai Executive Council’s Health Insurance Committee (HIC) Insurance Taskforce has conducted meetings with a range of Dubai, Emirati and international insurance, re-insurance and broking companies to discuss Dubai Government’s proposals to introduce comprehensive new health insurance plans in the Emirate in 2008.

Alongside the insurance programme, the HIC’s Healthcare Taskforce has also been undertaking a parallel audit of both public and private healthcare providers across the Emirate to ascertain what services and facilities are available and the costs associated with them.

The two taskforces were expected to report back to the HIC in September following which the the HIC will make a final recommendation to the Executive Council on the best health insurance framework for Dubai.

An HIC delegation has also visited a number of countries, such as Singapore, Australia and the United Kingdom to assess their health insurance practices. The government’s commitment to introducing a comprehensive health insurance programme follows the publication of the Dubai Strategic Plan which identifies social development as one of five key areas which Dubai must address if it is to ensure prosperity and sustainable growth.

Qadi Saeed Al Muroshad, director general of the Dubai Health Authority said: “Health is at the forefront of the government’s agenda. In addition to the reorganisation of the Department of Health and Medical Science and the creation of the Dubai Health Authority, the proposed new health insurance arrangements will help promote better access to better facilities and a healthier, more productive society.”

Education notice

The Health Authority - Abu Dhabi (HAAD), in the UAE, has issued a statement informing all health professionals working in the Private Health Sector in Abu Dhabi Emirate that beginning June 2008 license renewal for physicians and dentists will be linked to Continuing Education (CE). The same will apply for pharmacy and nursing starting from February 2009.

Physicians and dentists will be required to complete 50 hours of CE participation per year. Nurses and pharmacists will be required to complete 20 hours of CE per year.

For more information visit: www.health.ae

Vascular doctor joins Tawam

Tawam Hospital, Al Ain, UAE, has appointed Dr Heitham Hassoun as director of Vascular Interventional Therapy. Dr Hassoun joins the hospital from its affiliate, Johns Hopkins Medicine, USA, where he has been a member of the surgical faculty since 2005.

The appointment of Dr Hassoun is part of Tawam Hospital’s larger plan of setting up a state-of-the-art cardiac centre at the hospital. According to the hospital Dr Hassoun is currently the only surgeon in the UAE who can carry out advanced minimally invasive procedures such as stent-graft repair for aortic aneurysms, as well as percutaneous revascularisation of carotid, visceral, and peripheral arteries.

Michael Heindel, CEO, Tawam Hospital, said: “In pursuit of our goal of being among the best hospitals in the region, we have been investing in world-class medical professionals and equipment. Moreover, our affiliation with Johns Hopkins Medicine has resulted in several doctors joining us from there. We are certain that Dr Hassoun will thrive in his new role and we look forward to gaining immensely from his experience.”

Commenting on his appointment, Dr Hassoun said: “This will be a new challenge for me and it’s going to be exciting. The facilities at Tawam Hospital are excellent, comparable to some of the best hospitals in the world, which means that the need for residents of the UAE to travel abroad for medical treatment is significantly reduced. Further, the hospital has demonstrated a relentless commitment to offering state-of-the-art patient care, and its affiliation with Johns Hopkins Medicine and the major human resource and infrastructural investments it is making, is a reflection of this.”

In addition to his clinical practice, Dr Hassoun is engaged in basic and translational science research at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. His research interests are in the molecular mechanisms of visceral organ ischemia/reperfusion injury and inflammation, and his work has been published in several leading scientific journals.

New incinerator for Dubai

Dubai Municipality and Zenath Group, the recycling and waste management arm of ETA Star Group, a Dubaibased property developer, have signed an agreement to build UAE’s largest and first vertical medical incinerator plant for safe treatment of medical waste. The incinerator, to be located in Jebel Ali close to the existing incinerator, will have a treatment capacity of 20 tonnes per day and will be fully operational by late 2008.

Hussain Nasser Lootah, acting director general of Dubai Municipality, said the management of medical waste is one of the challenging tasks that accompany the growth and development of a progressive metropolis.

“Dubai is no exception as it is experiencing a steady increase in the quantity of medical waste due to population growth and the subsequent increase in the number of medical and healthcare facilities, not only in the urban areas but in rural areas as well. This waste requires proper treatment, destruction and disposal,” he said.

Lootah noted that the municipality handled 1,188 tonnes of medical waste in 2006 compared to 579 tonnes in 2002. He said by 2017, this quantity was expected to reach 4,030 tonnes, taking into account the full-scale functioning of facilities like Dubai Health Care City.

Syed M Salahuddin, chairman, ETA Star Group, said: “This is the first vertical incinerator being installed in the region and will go a long way in further improving hygienic and public health standards in Dubai. This will be of tremendous advantage to the healthcare industry.”

ETA star, has tied up with Mitsubishi Corporation and Plantec Corporation of Japan. Plantec Corporation devised the technology for treating medical waste through the use of vertical incinerators, which have been used successfully in Japan for the past 15 years.

New Saudi health centres

Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Health Dr Hamad Al-Manie announced that contracts worth SR3.6bn (about US$960 million) have been awarded for the construction of 1,010 health centres across the kingdom, according to a 28 August report in Arab News.

The new health centres are part of the ministry’s plan to build some 2,000 health centres in a bid to fulfil the government’s initiative to improve access to healthcare by expanding community health services across the kingdom.

Qatar blood donor drive

Increasing traffic and worksite accidents, more surgeries and the establishment of several new hospitals, such as the Al Amal Hospital, have generated a huge demand for blood in Qatar. To meet this increasing demand, Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) launched a campaign during the holy month of Ramadan encouraging people to donate blood.

At the launch of the campaign in September Jarvis Hoult, executive director, urged people to “become regular donors” to maintain the necessary levels of blood at the HMC blood bank.

New med centre for Sharjah

Prime Healthcare Group has opened a multi-specialty medical centre in Sharjah, UAE, which will provide 24- hour out-patient medical services.

The centre offers a range of services including General Medicine, Internal Medicine, ENT, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Paediatrics, Orthopaedics, General Surgery, Radiology, Cardiology, Dentistry, Ophthalmology and Dermatology.

Dr Jamil Ahmed, director of Prime HealthCare Group said: “A large number of our patients come from Sharjah to visit our centres in Deira, Jumeirah and Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai. So we felt the need to provide our multi-specialty medical services in Sharjah.”

The centre also operates a free shuttle service targeted at women and children in Sharjah who don’t have alternate means of transport. It is believed this is the first time this type of service is being offered in the UAE. All registration and appointment procedures will be processed on the shuttle bus, saving time lost to administrative procedures at the medical centre.

AHD expands

The American Hospital Dubai (AHD), one of the premier hospitals in the region, has started work on a new inpatient bed tower at the Dubai campus.

The new building will add more than 242 additional patient beds (all private rooms) and a range of new services, spread over a total of seven floors with a 2-level underground car park.

This latest development follows the recent opening of a new outpatient clinic building at the site, which will result in a doubling of the medical staff at the hospital. The new inpatient bed tower is the latest in a series of developments being undertaken by the hospital.

Other renovation projects at AHD include a new Joint Replacement Center of Excellence and seven new Emergency Department treatment rooms which will facilitate the hospital’s new Fast Track Service initiative.

These renovations will be completed in December this year. Minor renovations in the Labour and Delivery Unit including increasing NICU to six beds, Labour Rooms to five and two additional recovery rooms for the C-Section Suite have been recently completed.

Expansion of the Medical Imaging Department to include a new PET/CT scanner and a Cyclotron was due to begin in October.

Funds of Iraqi refugees

UN health sector partners – United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), UNICEF, World Food Programme (WFP), and WHO – launched an appeal on 18 September for US$84.8 million to assist an estimated 2.2 million Iraqis who have fled the ongoing violence and instability in Iraq to neighbouring countries. The funds are required to support host governments in meeting the health and nutrition needs of the displaced people until the end of next year.

The appeal emphasises the basic health needs of displaced Iraqis in neighbouring countries, in particular Syria and Jordan, which host about 1.5 million and 750,000 Iraqis respectively. The large numbers of people who have arrived over the past year put an enormous strain on the already overstretched public services and pose major challenges to host governments as well as local and international organisations.

In Syria alone, hundreds of Iraqi amputees need prostheses and thousands of cancer patients and trauma victims need specialised treatment. Access to hospital care is limited. Gaps have arisen in the national health information and disease surveillance systems, which increase the risk of vaccine preventable diseases. The deteriorating purchasing power of Iraqis may also lead to rising malnutrition rates. The displaced Iraqi population also needs reproductive and child health services.

The health needs of more than two million displaced Iraqis should not be ignored. Many are survivors of violence and have serious medical conditions. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi displaced children need to keep on track with their vaccination programme. This requires an enormous co-ordinated effort between governments, UN agencies and NGOs, and significant financial support from the international community.

The joint appeal aims to improve access to health care; address malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies and strengthen information and surveillance systems and coordination. It was developed as a result of the Common Action Framework concluded at the ministerial consultation convened by WHO in Damascus on 29-30 July.

Over the past year, the countries in the region have been very generous in keeping their borders open and have made a very substantial contribution to the health and nutrition needs of the displaced Iraqis. But the burden on their health systems has become overwhelming and requires immediate and urgent support from the international community.

Saudi health insurance

Saudi Arabia’s insurance market is expected to reach SR30bn (about US$8bn) in 10 years, industry experts were quoted as saying in Arab News.

The rapid growth is expected to be driven by the government’s recent ruling making health insurance mandatory for expatriates.

The newspaper reported that the current SR7bn market would reach SR15bn in 2009 and this was expected to double when the government introduces compulsory health insurance for all the 16 million population.

According to a recent report from the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA), the insurance market witnessed a 64% growth, from only SR5.2 billion in 2005, with the introduction of mandatory health insurance on expatriates.

SAMA has given a deadline for all companies to cover their workers with health insurance by March 2008. SAMA has given licences to 18 insurance companies and a further 24 companies are expected to be allowed to enter the market.

Emiratisation initiative

In a move that is bound to stimulate the Emiratisation policy in the United Arab Emirates – a government initiative to increase employment opportunities for Emirates nationals – Dubai-based Welcare World Health Systems (WWHS) and the Emirates National Development Programme (ENDP) in September signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to establish the first Emiratisation training programme in the UAE’s private healthcare sector.

According to the MoU, signed by Azzah Al Sharhan, director of ENDP, and Danie Meintjes, director of Human Resources of WWHS, unemployed UAE nationals will be recruited to be trained and to work in WWHS’s integrated local healthcare facilities in Dubai.

Ahmed Humaid Al Tayer, chairman of the Board of Trustees of ENDP, said the MoU will open a large door for UAE nationals.

“In the past, UAE nationals have only had access to the government sector. Now we have private sector involvement. We hope other private medical institutions will follow suit.

“I look forward to seeing the people who join this programme working in the healthcare sector in the future,” he said.

Meintjes said Welcare World was serious about the Emiratisation programme, but in the past had found it difficult to participate because of the low number of applicants. He said he expected the ENDP programme to change this.

Sharhan explained that the ENDP aims to serve young UAE nationals by helping them to identify the right career opportunities.

“Currently, we have arrangements with several organisations in different sectors. We will continue to widen the scope of this programme to include more sectors in the future,” she said.

Meintjies said the objective of Welcare World Health Systems was to initiate a Mentoring and Preceptor-ship Programme to create an educational and nurturing environment in which UAE nationals could successfully adjust to the healthcare environment and develop professionally.

He said the programme would involve having “old hands” in the healthcare industry who could oversee, supervise and guide the UAE nationals at Welcare’s healthcare facilities.

“Through a combination of ENDP training and the Welcare Mentoring and Preceptor-ship Programme, the new recruits will be integrated into the WWHS culture,” he said. “We aim to have UAE nationals make up around 4% of our staff in 18 months or so.”

Welcare World owns and manages a number of healthcare facilities in Dubai including Welcare Hospital and City Hospital (under construction) as well as a number of clinics and treatment centres.

Saudi govt med company

The Government of Saudi Arabia has established the National Company for Unified Purchase of Medicines and Medical Appliances. The new company will be the sole supplier of medicines and medical appliances to government health institutions. The new company will also re-export medicines and medical appliances.

It will have a capital of SR2bn (US$534 million) according to a report in Arab News. According to the newspaper, Saudis and expatriates have welcomed the move saying that they believed it would bring down the skyrocketing prices of medications.

Medicine importers in the kingdom currently cater to the needs of 65% of private hospitals and polyclinics and 35% of government hospitals. There are 200 hospitals under the Health Ministry. Investments in the kingdom’s private and public health sectors are estimated at SR500 billion with an annual expenditure of SR50 billion.

Welcare gets LabNET

Welcare World Health Systems in Dubai, UAE has recently gone online with a state-of-the-art LabNET implemented by Mumbai-based 21st Century Health Managment Solutions. This is the group’s first significant step to establish itself as a major player in the Middle East for its high quality healthcare consulting services and innovative Health Information Solutions (HIS).

The 21st Century LabNET solution addresses a mission-critical challenge faced by fast growing hospitals groups and laboratories – that of having processing labs and sample collection centres distributed over a wide geographical area so as to be close and convenient to their patients, and at the same time centrally monitoring all the remote centres to ensure reliability, fast turnaround times and compliance with international quality standards.

20-year rule for expat doctors

Saudi Arabian Health Minister Dr Hamad Al-Manie has decided not to renew contracts of foreign doctors who have completed 20 years of service, according to a 22 September report in Arab News.

“The Health Ministry has banned foreign doctors who have completed more than 20 years service in the kingdom from practicing the profession,” the paper said.

The new decision is aimed at creating job opportunities for qualified Saudi doctors, many of whom have returned to the kingdom following studies abroad.

There are more than 43,000 doctors at private and public hospitals in the kingdom and about 78% of them are expatriates, according to the report. The Ministry of Health runs nearly 200 hospitals in addition to more than 2,000 primary healthcare centres.

According to the newspaper plans are under way to transform government hospitals in the kingdom into public corporations in order to operate them commercially and improve health services. The project, which has been finalised by the ministry, will cost SR10 billion (about US$2.6 billion).

Iraq cholera spreads

IRIN reports (9 October) that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has been advising countries in the region – notably Iran, Syria and Jordan – to boost their defences against cholera, after reports that cholera had crossed the Iraqi border into Iran where at least 45 people have been infected.

The advisory follows an outbreak of cholera in Iraq where some 3,300 cases and 15 deaths have been reported since August. The outbreak is blamed on poor quality water supplies and a lack of sanitation.

IRIN reports that the disease which started in the northeast provinces of Sulaimaniyah, Erbil and Kirkuk has now spread to half the country despite efforts to contain it. WHO and local authorities on 20 September launched an emergency plan to tackle the outbreak. An intense awareness campaign has also been launched in the country with posters on how to combat cholera being plastered everywhere. Volunteers have been visiting schools, universities, ministries, hospitals, clinics and shops to educate the public about cholera. Leaflets have been distributed urging people to drink sterilised or boiled water, to avoid eating uncooked food and to make sure fruits and vegetables are washed properly.

However, it is feared the disease will spread in refugee camps on Iraq's borders and inside Iran, Syria and Jordan where residents have poor access to clean water and sanitation.

“Many of us are suffering from diarrhoea. Doctors are not always available and this week we discovered that two men who were at our camp for a short period of time are now in Baghdad being treated for cholera,” Haifa Izidin, 36, a displaced woman living in a camp on the Iraqi-Syrian border, told IRIN news.

The Jordanian Ministry of Health has begun implementing a contingency plan, Ali Assad, head of the National Committee for Epidemics at the ministry, told IRIN. However, the possibility of closing the borders has been ruled out by officials.

“We have the anti-cholera treatments to deal with the disease in case it appears. But for now there is no need to close the borders if we follow scientific methods in handling the disease,” said Bassam Hijawi, head of the Ministry of Health’s Disease Control Department.

The Jordanian and Iraqi governments have agreed that air passengers from Iraq be screened and provided with the necessary preventative medication either before they embark on flights to Jordan or when they land in Amman. Passengers are also given certificates by the Iraqi side indicating that they are cholera-free.

The Health Ministry also plans to scrutinise the treatment being given to Iraqis living in Jordan, mainly in densely populated areas. “We want to make sure proper measures are taken when dealing with possible cholera patients,” said Assad.

At least 700,000 Iraqis live in Jordan, the majority of whom arrived after the USled invasion of Iraq in 2003. According to the IRIN report, Syria had yet to implement direct measures to counter cholera. The authorities had not initiated any screening for incoming Iraqis for cholera-related symptoms. However, with medical supplies readily at hand and with Syria having now all but closed its borders to Iraqi refugees, it is hoped that the disease can be contained within Iraq.

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