Pfizer to build pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in Saudi

The biopharmaceutical company Pfizer has signed an agreement with the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) to develop a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) on the west coast of the Red Sea, north of Jeddah. Based at KAEC, the project will benefit from the competitive advantages offered by the Saudi Government.

The project will incorporate medicine manufacturing and packaging technologies within one complex. It will ensure local production of Pfizer’s pharmaceutical medicines, and facilitate the transfer of some expertise and technology from Pfizer to the local market in Saudi, ensuring production meets Pfizer’s quality standards.

The project offers a number of benefits: Saudi patients are expected to benefit from improved access to Pfizer’s medicines, the new plant will contribute to the commercial and economic development of the national economy, and its development is also expected to create new and skilled employment opportunities for the people of Saudi Arabia.

Bulent Atlig, Vice President, Pfizer Global Supply said: “This project demonstrates the confidence we have in the Saudi Arabian business environment and the high level of opportunity we see here as a growth market. Our decision to establish a new manufacturing presence in Saudi Arabia is based on its attractive business environment and the healthcare industry potential.”

Dubai Medical College wins award for Best Education Institute

Dubai Medical College (DMC) was conferred the Best Educational Institute in Healthcare award during the World Congress Asia Awards ceremony held in Dubai on 25 September 2011. The World Education Congress Asia Awards are presented by the Asian Confederation of Businesses with CMO Asia as its strategic partner and Stars of the Industry Group as a research partner.

DMC was selected by a team of higher education professionals who screened universities from more than 20 countries. Dubai Medical College was established in 1986 exclusively for girls by Haj Saeed Bin Ahmed Al Lootah, Founder and Chairman of the Board of Trustees. The five-year medical course is accredited by UAE’s Ministry of Higher Education. The college is listed in the World Health Organisation (WHO) Directory of Medical Schools. Students at the college undergo clinical training at Dubai’s Department of Health and Medical Services hospitals.

World Association of Eye Hospitals holds first Middle East meeting in Dubai

Moorfields Eye Hospital Dubai, the first overseas branch of the world renowned Moorfields Eye Hospital London, in September hosted the first meeting in the Middle East of the World Association of Eye Hospitals (WAEH) – the global network of eye hospitals and centres of excellence for ophthalmology, which comprises 11 hospitals and five associate members, from around the world.

The WAEH meeting looked at the latest innovations in eye health care and reviewed a number of WAEH projects planned for 2012. Eight of the member hospitals were represented at the meeting including eye hospitals in Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, The Netherlands, Singapore, Sweden, Thailand, and UK.

“The World Association of Eye Hospitals is an association of standalone specialist eye hospitals or eye departments of large university hospitals,” explained John Pelly, chief executive of Moorfields Eye Hospital London, and board member of the WAEH. “All the participants at the Dubai meeting are CEOs or directors of major eye hospitals worldwide, who have chosen to collaborate and cooperate with the prime objective of enhancing the quality of eye care provided to patients. We hosted the 2011 annual meeting of the WAEH at Moorfields in London and the WAEH board decided that – given Dubai’s perfect location and facilities – it was an excellent opportunity to host a meeting for the first time in the Middle East. It is a great honour for us and an opportunity to showcase Dubai and the UAE, Dubai Healthcare City and of course Moorfields Eye Hospital Dubai, to this globally influential group.”

Among the subjects discussed at the WAEH meeting were treatment options for and management of macular degeneration patients, and the development of an internationally recognised protocol for a post-operative eye condition.

Gulf COAST study set to go ahead

A first-of-its-kind study in the Gulf region is set to go ahead following the signing of a Research Support Agreement between AstraZeneca Gulf and Kuwait University.

The study – the Gulf loCals with acute CorOnAry Syndrome evenTs” Registry, or Gulf COAST Registry will run for a year and is designed to track and assess the incidence, risk factors and treatment of patients with acute coronary syndrome (ACS).

Gulf COAST is a collaborative effort among leading cardiologists from the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman. The study will track 4,000 Gulf citizens across 35 hospitals in the region for up to one year, who are admitted with a diagnosis of ACS. Gulf COAST is supervised by a 17-member study Steering Committee of senior cardiologists and leading experts from the four countries and an international scholar from the United States.

Commenting on the study, Professor Mohammad Zubaid, Professor of Medicine at Kuwait University, and the Principal Investigator for Gulf COAST said: “Heart disease disproportionately affects our region, with the average age of acute coronary syndrome patients across the Middle East a decade younger compared with the West, so the need for this study is critical. As a registry of patients suffering from ACS, Gulf COAST will assess daily practice in ‘real life’ and record measures, such as socioeconomic factors and quality of life, to determine how we can provide the best patient care possible for this serious disease. Our goal is to observe and record current practices in disease management and treatment, to identify opportunities to improve care, and to suggest necessary steps to address any gaps.”

Key objectives of the study are to understand the incidence of ACS and regional risk factors and outcomes, to benchmark against current accepted practices and guidelines, and to establish a network of collaborators in this research. Gulf COAST will cover the patient from the time they arrive at the hospital, through discharge and beyond, up to one year.

Dr Fahad Omar Baslaib, President of the Emirates Cardiac Society and Head of the Cardiology Department at Rashid Hospital, commented: “Heart disease is the number one killer, both in the region and in the UAE, accounting for 25 to 30 percent of deaths. We know that many of our citizens suffer and die from heart disease. But, without understanding both the extent of the problem and how it’s actually being treated, it is difficult to make recommendations to improve patient care. While significant data exist at the international level, we lack the regionally specific information necessary to better understand and address ACS and the needs of our citizens. Gulf COAST will deliver the robust local data that we require.”

Call for early testing for hepatitis C

At a symposium in Dubai held by pharmaceutical company MSD, experts called for early testing and treatment of hepatitis C to bring the overall numbers of hepatitis C infections down.

Dr Zaher Koutoubi detailed results from a hepatitis C study, which explored the outcome of treatment regimes for 301 patients diagnosed and treated for hepatitis C at Tawam Hospital in Al Ain, UAE, since 2005. Results of this study showed that treatment success rates for hepatitis C in the UAE are similar to international data. He summarised the importance of hepatitis C treatments saying: “The aim of treatment is to eradicate the hepatitis C virus, which will invariably prevent progression to cirrhosis and liver failure and lower the need for a liver transplant. Overall, treatment enhances patient survival; we are lucky that hepatitis C is a condition that can be treated and we have experienced doctors in the UAE to administer this treatment.”

Dr Salem Awadh from Al Mafraq Hospital, Abu Dhabi spoke on the importance of new treatment options, saying: “New treatments in the form of protease inhibitors are under review and approval for next year. Protease inhibitors will supplement current treatment options, which help to stop the replication of the virus. Following approval, these treatments may become available in the UAE.”

A hepatitis C consensus statement that was released in July this year was the result of a 12-country study in the MENA region in 2010 by the international scientific agency PharmARC with support from MSD. The experts involved in this study met as a ‘clinical network’ and authored a White Paper on the Socio-Economic Burden of hepatitis C. Dr Mohammed Al Zaaby, a Gastroenterology Consultant from Zayed Military Hospital, Abu Dhabi, discussed the UAE-related findings at the symposium. He pointed out that in the Emirates alone, experts estimate that 37,000 – 92,000 people are infected with hepatitis C, which amounts to 0.8 – 2% of the population. Of this estimated number of infected individuals, only 50% are thought to have been diagnosed. Additionally, local experts agreed that around 50% of infections were acquired through blood products, around 1% occurred through sexual transmission, and less than 2% occurred through vertical transmission from mother to child prenatally.

Discussing his experiences, Dr Al Zabby added: “I am keen to do more, along with my fellow physicians in the Emirates, to address this growing public health issue. If hepatitis C as a ‘silent’ asymptomatic condition goes undiagnosed until it is in a chronic phase, the cost implications are huge. It is much more cost-effective for us to be treating patients early on in the acute phase of the disease.”

‘My Diabetes Story’ Patient Ambassador Group to be created

Sanofi, a global healthcare company, has partnered with regional diabetes associations to create the ‘My Diabetes Story’ Patient Ambassador Group. The group, which will be comprised of diabetes patient representatives from across the Middle East, will work with Sanofi and their respective local diabetes associations to develop initiatives in their countries that help other patients, raise awareness, educate the media and community, promote effective disease management and highlight the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle, according to a statement released by Sanofi in Beirut.

‘My Diabetes Story’ is a regional campaign that takes a heartening approach to create awareness about diabetes, engaging patients to share their personal experiences with others. It has developed informative and motivational news stories to educate the public, patients, doctors, healthcare professionals and the media. The general aim of the Patient Ambassador Group is to develop actions for better disease management and patient care ensuring that people with diabetes can lead fulfilling lives.

Dr Abdulrazzaq A. Madani, Consultant Endocrinologist and Head of Emirates Diabetes Society, said that the idea of a patient ambassadors group is to encourage patient-to-patient communication which is a very effective way to provide patient support.

The following diabetes associations are partnering with Sanofi for the ‘My Diabetes Story’ Patient Ambassador Group:

- Qatar Diabetes Association
- Kuwait Diabetes Society
- Emirates Diabetes Society
- Sweetkidz Support Group for Children with Diabetes
- Saudi Scientific Society for Diabetes
- Pan Arab Society for Endocrinology and Diabetes
- The Lebanese Society of Endocrinology Diabetes and Lipids

Thousands infected with dengue in Pakistan

An outbreak of dengue fever, which has killed over 20 people and infected thousands of others in the last two months, has spread in Pakistan’s most populous province of Punjab, especially in the capital, Lahore, medical workers say.

According to Muhammad Razzaq, director of Communicable Disease Control in the Punjab government, 6,666 cases had been reported in the two months up to 19 September. “Of these, 5,900 cases are in Lahore while the rest are from districts such as Faisalabad and Multan,” he told IRIN.

Since the outbreak started, 23 people have died of the disease. Some media reports put the death toll significantly higher. There have also been reports of dengue in Sindh Province, with the provincial Dengue Surveillance Cell reporting 138 cases this year, most of them in Karachi.

Doctor calls for increased homecare

UAE patients requiring the relief of symptoms for chronic, non-contagious illnesses should be looked after in their own homes by palliative care professionals rather than remain in acute hospital settings, says a Dubai-based expert in community medicine. Dr Nikki Motazedian, Home Health Consultant and head of Medcare’s Homecare service, spoke out about the importance of a family-centric environment for these patients to mark World Hospice and Palliative Care Day, which took place on 8 October.

“Patients who are receiving treatment for the relief of symptoms of long-term, non-infectious conditions are best cared for in their own homes, as this is an environment that they are familiar with and are much more comfortable in,” said Dr Motazedian. “Hospitals should be for admissions for acute illnesses, or chronic illnesses that are being aggressively treated, they are not ideal for the care of those who are receiving medical input for the relief of symptoms only. In these cases, it is the promotion of comfort and social welfare that should be the top priorities. With the right level of intervention from community healthcare professionals, this is much better achieved in their own homes,” she added.

The theme for World Hospice and Palliative Care Day 2011 is ‘many diseases, many lives, many voices – palliative care for non-communicable conditions.’ The focus this year is on how people living with incurable long-term illnesses that are not infectious can benefit from palliative care; the strand of medicine that is dedicated to relieving patient suffering without treating the underlying disease process itself. The aim of palliative care is to improve the quality of life of the patient by addressing the physical, emotional, spiritual, and social concerns that arise with advanced illness.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) include cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory conditions and diabetes; conditions that account for up 60% of deaths worldwide, according to the WHO Global Status Report on Noncommunicable Diseases 2010. The incidence of NCDs is expected to increase by 17% over the next 10 years as lifestyle illnesses, such as obesity and diabetes, push people into serious longterm health problems.

“Across the region we are seeing more and more people living with chronic illnesses as the high levels of obesity and diabetes present here take their toll,” said Dr Motazedian. “Obesity and diabetes predispose a person to developing heart disease, kidney disease and other chronic conditions, so we are witnessing an increasing demand for palliative care for people in the advanced stages of these illnesses once treatment for the disease itself is no longer effective. The promotion of comfort and dignity is the fundamental aspect of good care in these instances and this is much better achieved at home when a patient can be with their loved ones, as opposed to a restrictive and clinical hospital setting,” she added.

Dr Motazedian’s homecare service is based out of Medcare Hospital in Dubai and provides a range of healthcare professionals to care for patients in the community, depending to their clinical need. The programme aims to assist all ages from new-born babies to the elderly and is currently the only one in the UAE that rosters doctors to visit patients in their homes Sana’a hospitals overloaded

IRIN reported in late September that hospitals in the Yemeni capital Sana’a were struggling to cope with a stream of patients - victims of the violence that has gripped the country since February.

“We are facing an unprecedented shortage of medicine and qualified staff. All the roads leading to the hospital are either blocked or unsafe, putting the lives of dozens of wounded at high risk,” Mohammed al- Qubati, head of a private field hospital (set up in February by businessmen linked to the opposition) which has been treating injured protesters, told IRIN.

Ali al-Ghashm, deputy manager of the government-run Military Hospital in Sana’a, said the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU) is filled with seriously injured soldiers following clashes in Sana’a and nearby Arhab, or with Islamic militants in Aden.

“There is not enough space to receive injured civilians… Some of the seriously injured cases in the ICU have no beds. The unit is also facing a shortage of artificial breathing tubes.”

Tareq Numan, a senior surgeon in the University Hospital, appealed to government health officials to allow some of the wounded to be transferred to governmentrun hospitals in Sana’a.

At least nine people were killed and dozens of others injured in clashes between pro- and anti-government forces on 21 September in western and northern parts of Sana’a, despite the announcement of a ceasefire by Vice-President Abdurabu Hadi the previous day.

“The situation is catastrophic. A ninemonth old baby boy was killed by a stray bullet in Hayel Street while in his mother’s lap,” Ahmad al-Qurashi, chairman of local NGO Seyaj Organization for Childhood Protection, told IRIN.

Abdullatif al-Zayani, secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and UN envoy Jamal Bin Omar left Sana’a on 21 September after a two-day visit, having failed to bring the ruling and opposition parties to the negotiating table under a GCC-brokered transition plan dating back to April.

Friends of Arthritis Patients Society of Sharjah launch awareness campaign

As part of a push for increased understanding around the burden of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in the UAE, the Friends of Arthritis Patients Society (FAPS) in Sharjah recently announced the ‘Move to Improve’ public awareness campaign.

The campaign, targeted at primary care physicians, patients, specialists and the wider public, aims to educate and raise awareness for RA patients, with a local study indicating that approximately 1% of the adult population suffers from the disease in the UAE(1).

Commenting o the launch of the campaign, Waheeda Abdul Aziz, head of the Friends of Arthritis Patients Society in Sharjah said: “The generally low prevalence of RA means that it can sometimes be overlooked and misdiagnosed, and through the ‘Move to Improve’ campaign we intend to facilitate a greater understanding not only of the physical pain that sufferers endure, but also the emotional toll and the effect on the patient’s quality of life.”

Working under the umbrella of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs (SCFA), under the patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammed al-Qassimi, chairperson of the SCFA, FAPS aims to increase public awareness of RA, help people cope better with the impact of arthritis on their lives, and to provide financial support where needed.

Sponsored by Pfizer, campaign activities throughout the month of October included screenings, a public awareness meeting at Sharjah University for medical and high school students, as well as other public discussions with physicians and patients throughout the Emirate culminating in an awareness day on 27 October at Sharjah Mega Mall. A workshop for 400 arthritis and osteoporosis specialists and doctors will be held on 26 November at the Millenium Hotel in Sharjah.

References: (1)Badsha H, Kong KO, Tak PP. Rheumatoid arthritis in the United Arab Emirates. Clin Rheumatol. 2008;27:739-742.

Fake doctors exposed in Saudi

Officials in Saudi Arabia have uncovered a number of cases of doctors forging their qualifications. According to a report in the Saudi Gazette, during the past eight years the Saudi Commission for Health Specialties has detected 1,073 forgeries in 17 specialties; 742 cases, 69%, were in private hospitals and 331 cases, 31%, were in government hospitals.

There were 22 doctors in government hospitals and 34 in private hospitals who were found to have been involved in forging documents related to their qualifications and education, the reports said. The field of nursing had the highest number of forgery cases, 326; 191 were in private hospitals and 135 were in government hospitals.

There have been 306 cases in pharmacology 285 in private hospitals and 21 in government hospitals.

Dr Alaa Alwan nominated new head of WHO EMRO

The WHO Regional Committee for the Eastern Mediterranean nominated Dr Alaa Alwan, Iraq, to the post of WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean to succeed Dr Hussein A. Gezairy, in October 2012. This nomination, carried out by secret ballot at a private meeting of the Committee, in which the representatives of the 22 Member States of the Region participated, will be submitted to the WHO Executive Board for endorsement at its meeting in January 2012.

Dr Alaa Alwan has been Assistant Director-General for Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health since 1 February 2008. Dr Alwan graduated in Medicine from the University of Alexandria. He practiced medicine in Scotland and obtained his postgraduate training and qualifications in the United Kingdom. Following his return to Iraq, his home country, he held several positions in clinical and academic medicine and public health. He was Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Mustansiriya University, Baghdad.

In 1992, he joined WHO as Regional Adviser for Noncommunicable Diseases in the Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean. He then served as WHO Representative in Oman, and Director, Division of Health Systems Development in the Eastern Mediterranean Region. In 1998, Dr Alwan was reassigned to WHO headquarters as Director for Noncommunicable Diseases Prevention and then Director of the Department of Noncommunicable Diseases Management. In 2001, he became WHO Representative in Jordan. From 2003 to 2005, he was Minister of Education and Minister of Health in the Government of Iraq. From 2005 to January 2008, he was Representative of the Director- General and Assistant Director-General for Health Action in Crises. Since then he was assistant Regional Director for Noncommunicable Disease and Mental Health and he worked on integrating this programme on the international level.

New daily inhaler for COPD approved by UAE MoH

A new daily inhaler for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), has been licensed by the UAE Ministry of Health (MoH), according to Novartis, the maker of the drug.

The drug called Onbrez Breezhaler (indacaterol) is the only long-acting beta2- adrenergic agonist bronchodilator that lasts 24 hours, where as others need to be taken several times a day. Bronchodilators are the corner stone of COPD treatment and are recommended as first line treatment in international COPD guidelines.

In the Middle East, Onbrez has also been licensed in Lebanon, Syria, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait.

Dr Ashraf Al Zaabi, Head of the Respiratory division, Zayed Military Hospital, Abu Dhabi, who last year carried out the first ever UAE prevalence study into COPD, said that improving compliance was key issue to improving lung function and reducing mortality in COPD patients.

“Generally less than 50% of those who suffer from a chronic disease, including COPD, fail to take their medications properly and so compliance is a big issue. There are a number of things you can do to improve compliance one of which is reducing the number of times patients have to take their medication. So having a once daily bronchodilator is definitely a big step forward in the right direction,” he said.

The UAE MoH and Dubai Health Authority have approved Onbrez Breezhaler and it is now available on prescription. According to the Novartis statement, the Health Authority Abu Dhabi is in the process of assessing the medication and it is expected to be available in the capital and Al Ain later this year.

Cloud computers for Saudi MoH

The Saudi Ministry of Health has completed the setup of cloud storage computers. The servers will enable MoH staff access to MoH files from anywhere and from any device. It is expected to reduce workloads and improve services at the ministry’s hospitals and primary healthcare centres, according to a report in the Saudi Gazette.

Saudi to install system to monitor infectious diseases

The Saudi Ministry of Health will install an integrated electronic system to monitor infectious diseases and control epidemics in the Kingdom, according to a report in the Saudi Gazette in October.

“The national monitoring programme will help health authorities to keep an eye on infectious diseases as and when they are reported from any part of the Kingdom and help detect epidemics,” Dr Khalid Al-Marghalani, MoH spokesman, as quoted as saying.

The initiative will cover immunization of citizens and residents as well as the storage of vaccines.

The programme will be implemented in phases, beginning in the Makkah region and will cover all regions in three years.

Qatar’s Virgin Health Bank starts storing blood stem cells

Virgin Health Bank has started to process and store cord blood stem cells at its new state-of-the-art laboratory in Doha.

The new cord blood bank represents a significant addition to the healthcare infrastructure of Qatar and the region. It has been designed to meet the needs of individual families who want to store their baby’s cord blood and is also capable of supporting public cord blood banking programmes.

Cord blood stem cells are collected from the blood remaining in the umbilical cord after a baby is born and are used to treat blood disorders such as Beta Thalassemia and Sickle Cell Anaemia and cancers of the blood and immune system such as leukaemias and lymphomas.

Virgin Health Bank was established in Qatar in 2009 to provide transplant quality cord blood banking services to the state’s population. In many countries cord blood banking is a well-established process with hundreds of thousands of families choosing to store the cord blood stem cells of their newborn babies. Since the first successful cord blood transplant was undertaken in 1988 the number of transplants carried out each year has grown significantly with over 15,000 undertaken in 2009 alone.

One crucial factor that has to be considered in the transplant process is the genetic compatibility between the donor and the recipient as without a genetic match the transplant is likely to fail. For members of Arab communities this is a real issue as the likelihood of finding a matching unit on one of the international registries of donors is very low. Of the 18.2 million registered stem cell donors and donated stem cell units available on the Bone Marrow Donors Worldwide registry only 45 originate in the Gulf region.

Dr Rajan Jethwa, Virgin Health Bank’s CEO, said of the announcement, “every year thousands of cord blood stem cell transplants take place around the world, saving lives that would otherwise be lost. The current shortage of stem cells from Arab communities means that the chances of finding matched cord blood unit for transplant for an Arab patient within the existing international registries are very low. With the commissioning of our new cord blood bank families in Qatar can now collect and store the cord blood stem cells of their newborn babies locally, in an excellent facility that provides them with transplant quality services.”

“The unique operational models have set new quality standards in cord blood banking globally and it is no coincidence that our work in Qatar is now attracting interest from the United States, Europe and neighbouring GCC countries,” he added.  


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