UAE sets up Health Council

H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has issued a decree establishing a national Health Council, under the chairmanship of the Health Minister, Humaid Mohammed Obaid Al Qattami, according to WAM news agency.

The new council shall coordinate the work between federal and local healthcare establishments and authorities, as well as the private healthcare sector to ensure the smooth integration of work and improve the standards of healthcare delivery.

The council will also work with the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research to draw up educational policies for the studying of health sciences and medicine inside the UAE and abroad. Among a number of other roles the council is also expected to provide recommendations for healthcare legislation in the Emirates.

The Health Council will comprise two representatives from each of the following institutions – the Ministry of Health, the Abu Dhabi Health Authority, Dubai Health Authority (DHA), Dubai Health Care City, the medical services sectors of the Interior Ministry and the armed forces as well as two representatives from the private health sectors.


Yemen population control

IRIN reports from Sana’a that the National Population Council (NPC) of Yemen, a government body, has said it has approved a plan to implement a national population strategy to reduce the fertility rate – one of the highest in the world.

Mujahed al-Shaab, head of the NPC's Population Information Department, said the NPC had prepared the plan, which will run until 2010, with the help of 22 governmental and nongovernmental bodies.

“The strategy needs US$8 million to be implemented. Half of this amount would be contributed by donors and the other half by the government,” he told IRIN. He said the plan involved raising awareness about population issues by training religious and community leaders, preparing TV and radio programmes, and adding population studies to curriculums at schools, universities and other academic institutions.

Al-Shaab said the NPC aimed to reduce the current fertility rate from 6.1% to 4% by 2015. “But this depends on whether we get funds for the strategy,” he said. He pointed out that Yemen’s population is increasing by 700,000 every year. Al-Shaab said efforts would be made to offer free family planning services.


DHCC begins CME series with ophthalmology

Dubai Healthcare City’s (DHCC) Center for Healthcare Planning and Quality (CPQ), in collaboration with DHCC ophthalmologists, has commenced a number of initiatives to improve the quality of healthcare services in line with international best practices and to engage the medical community in a discussion on disease management, clinical indicators and outcome improvement.

CPQ has launched a series of monthly educational forums on ophthalmology. The educational series on ophthalmology marks an initial step towards creating specialised healthcare forums on other critical health topics in the future. The initiative is part of DHCC’s Continuing Medical Education (CME) programme.

The CME forum is accredited by Harvard Medical School Dubai Center (HMSDC) Institute for Postgraduate Education and Research, a member of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Academic Medical Center at DHCC. The ophthalmology series is sponsored by four DHCC-based service providers – American University of Beirut (AUB) Consultant Physicians, Moorfield’s Eye Hospital, Welcare Eye Center, and Laser Eye Center.


BioMedix joins DuBiotech

Dubai Biotechnology and Research Park (DuBiotech), has announced a partnership agreement with BioMedix, a leading equipment and services provider for non invasive detection of peripheral vascular disease (PVD), to manufacture in-vitro diagnostic (IVD) equipment in Dubai.

The BioMedix facility will manufacture ELISA kits, as well as PCR, Run Controls and Proficiency Panels. IVD equipment is used to conduct medical tests that protect blood supply, monitor the administration of drugs and offer pertinent data that assist in the diagnosis and treatment of various diseases.

The ELISA kit is used to identify antibodies for microscopic parasites found in human faeces. Reliable, effective and precise, the PCR is a tool for detecting diseases, while the simultaneous use of run control and proficiency panels will help evaluate any IVD equipment in private and government diagnostic laboratories.


Egypt says H5N1 endemic in poultry

Officials in Egypt have declared that avian influenza (H5N1) is endemic in the country’s poultry flocks. In a 7 July 2008 report to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) the officials said they will now file updates on its H5N1 outbreaks only every six months. This follows several H5N1 outbreaks that have occurred in the country since February 2008.


Healthcare spend to increase dramatically

Healthcare demand in general will rise 240% in the GCC region over the next 20 years, with health risk factors, ageing, population growth and medical inflation contributing to the increase. This staggering figure was highlighted by Dr Ioan Cleaton-Jones at a GE Healthcare-sponsored media summit held in Dubai in June, entitled: Healthcare in the Middle East - Challenges and Opportunities.

Dr Cleaton-Jones, a Senior Health Specialist in the Health and Education Department of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, based in Washington DC, referred to a recent report by McKinsey & Co which projected that along with this increase in spend would be a rise in the number of hospital beds from 68,250 in 2006 to 114,450 by 2015 and 161,750 by 2025.

He said: “High-income countries such as the UAE, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia spend only 2.2% to 3.4% of GDP on healthcare. In Europe healthcare spend is around 9%-11% of GDP, so we can expect the level of spending to increase in the region as populations grow, people live longer, experience fewer infectious diseases and get more chronic diseases of old age and affluence, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.”

Richard di Benedetto, President and CEO of GE Healthcare, International, EAGM region, said in his keynote address to the summit that healthcare in the region is now a national priority, “10 years ago it wasn’t”.

He noted various emerging trends in the region including the increasing number of healthcare services; the improvement of clinical quality; broadening of public health awareness; and the establishment of sustainable funding mechanisms, such as mandatory health insurance.

“One of the key challenges, however, is the shortage of qualified manpower,” he said. Dr Cleaton-Jones pointed out that generally healthcare spending growth tends to be a bit faster than GDP growth.

“As countries get richer they tend to spend a bigger portion of their GDP on health.”

He gave examples of highincome countries like the US which spends 15.2% of GDP, Japan 8.2% and Germany 10.2%; low income countries like Nigeria spend 3.9% of GDP, India 5% and Bangladesh 2.8%. In the Middle East the UAE spends 2.5%, Saudi Arabia 3.4% and Kuwait 2.2%. The exception is Jordan which spends 10.5% of GDP, he said.

“As these countries move to high income status these percentages will grow,” he said. “Also the proportion of ageing population will grow increasing the health cost burden.”


Ajman’s Gulf Medical College elevated to university status

Gulf Medical College (GMC) in Ajman, UAE, has been elevated to the status of university. Gulf Medical University is now recognised by the Ministry of Higher Education for the UAE.

Initially the university will offer Doctor of Pharmacy, Pharm.D, and is planning several new programmes for the new academic year subject to approval from the MOHE. These include: Doctor of Dental Medicine, Master’s in Clinical Pathology, Master’s in Public Health and Primary Care, Master’s in Toxicology, Master’s in Hospital Administration, Master’s in Medical Education, Arab Board Certification Program, Residency Program in Radiology.

Professor Ashok Raj has been appointed Provost of the Gulf Medical University. All clinical departments will be encouraged to take up research in collaboration with national and international institutions.

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 Meanwhile, GMC Hospital Fujairah, UAE, celebrated its second anniversary on 22 June. The hospital has added a new block with 25 outpatient day clinics and a 65-bed multispecialty hospital. Some of the services offered in the new block include: operation theatres, ICU, pharmacy, laboratory, dental, radiology, internal medicine, paediatrics and 24 hour emergency.

The GMC Hospital Fujairah is supported by GMC Hospital Ajman, a 250-bed hospital, which plays an integral role as a teaching hospital for GMC, now GMU.


WHO concerned at Israeli raid on Ramallah hospital

The WHO issued a statement in July “expressing concern” at the raid by Israeli armed forces of the Ramallah Governmental Hospital at 2am on 10 July.

The WHO said: “Such an incursion on health care service delivery has grave implications, and further complicates the work of the health sector, and medical professionals in particular as they strive to fulfil their mission in an already complex situation. The persisting crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory continues to have a severe impact, not only on the social and economic life of the Palestinian people but also on their health status and access to health care services.”

The WHO stressed the need to guarantee universal coverage of health services and preserve the functions of the health services, regardless of any political considerations or military conflict.

The WHO called on Israel to comply with international humanitarian law, and requested it to “shoulder its responsibilities in that regard in order to safeguard the right of the Palestinian people to physical and mental health care services”.

This includes the basic principle laid down in the Constitution of the World Health Organisation affirming that “the health of all peoples is fundamental to the attainment of peace and security”.


Philips in Saudi medical training partnership

Royal Philips Electronics and the Saudi Arabia-based Specialized Academy for Medical Training (SAMT) will partner to provide medical education and training programmes for young Saudi high school graduates and staff in hospitals and medical centres across the kingdom.

Through the partnership SAMT is expected to offer programmes covering medical technology disciplines including x-ray, ultrasound and healthcare IT. Each programme will consist of a combination of e-learning modules and practical training and will be accredited by the Saudi Commission for Health Specialties.

SAMT was established in 2000 and currently offers six diploma programmes in dental technology, medical secretary, medical laboratory, medical records and archiving, radiology technology and nursing.


Rights Watch calls on Iran to release AIDS physicians

Human Rights Watch issued a statement in late July calling on Iranian authorities to release or charge the brothers Arash and Kamyar Alaei, two physicians who are internationally recognised for their work on HIV/AIDS. The organisation says the pair were detained without charge by Iranian security forces in late June, and their whereabouts remain unknown.

“The authorities have not yet announced why the brothers were detained or whether or not they intend to bring any charges against them. Moreover, they have refused to disclose information about where the Alaei brothers are being held and have not provided them access to counsel,” Human Rights Watch said.

“Iran’s HIV/AIDS programme has been acclaimed internationally for seriously addressing the AIDS epidemic,” said Joe Amon, HIV/AIDS programme director at Human Rights Watch. “To fight AIDS effectively, the government has realised that it must engage in global efforts to combat the disease, work with civil society, and confront taboo issues, including sex and drugs. The detention without charges of the Alaei brothers has a chilling effect on all of those efforts.”

The Alaei brothers are well known in Iran and internationally for their contributions to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programmes. For more than 20 years, they have been active in addressing problems relating to drug use, with a focus on the spread of HIV/AIDS, and have played a key role in putting these issues on the national healthcare agenda. They have worked closely with government and religious leaders to ensure support for education campaigns on HIV transmission, including those targeting youth, and for HIV and harm reduction programmes in prisons. They have also worked to share their expertise with neighbouring countries by holding training workshops for Afghan and Tajik healthcare professionals. Neither of the men is known to have any involvement in political activities.

Iran is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and as such has strict legal obligations not to carry out arbitrary arrests or detention and to afford due process rights – including the prompt provision of reasons for an arrest and any charges which will be brought, access to counsel, and the right to be brought before a judicial officer to determine the legality of the detention – to anyone detained.


Call for regular check-up for diabetic retinopathy

If left undetected diabetes retinopathy can lead to vision loss and blindness, according to eye specialist, Dr Chris Canning, Consultant Ophthalmologist/Vitreoretinal Surgeon, Imperial College London Diabetes Centre, Abu Dhabi, and Chief Executive and Medical Director, Moorfields Eye Hospital Dubai.

Dr Canning said that eye disease in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes patients can lead to total vision loss, however, this can be prevented in 90% of cases if diabetes and retinopathy are diagnosed early.

Retinopathy affects more than 2.5 million people worldwide and is found to be prevalent in 21% of type 2 diabetes patients and almost everyone with type 1 diabetes.

He warned there are very few symptoms during the early stages of diabetic retinopathy and that vision may not change until the disease has advanced.

Diabetic retinopathy is of particular concern in the region due to the high prevalence of diabetes.


WHO commends UAE for voluntary blood donations

The WHO has commended the UAE for its impressive strides in ensuring contamination- free blood by reaching close to 100% voluntary blood donation. The UAE’s efforts to increase their safe blood base will be promoted as a model for other countries to follow.

The UAE went from no voluntary donations at all in 1990 (when it used a system of importing blood or donations from family members) to 80% in 2004 and 97.6% in 2006. Carissa Etienne, Assistant Director-General for Health Systems at WHO, said: “Access to safe blood is a key component of effective health care and voluntary donors are the cornerstone of a safe blood supply.”

Voluntary blood donors are the safest source of blood. They donate of their own free will, without pressure, coercion or payment, and are therefore less likely to hide information about their health status and behaviour that may make them ineligible to donate blood.

WHO’s most recent figures on blood donation show that only 54 countries globally have achieved 100% voluntary donation, including, most recently, Thailand, Turkey and Uganda.

The WHO said that studies reveal that some governments perceive the task of mobilising the population to donate blood without payment or family interest as insurmountable, but the UAE has shown that it is possible to change donor behaviour in a very short time.

The UAE was the first country in the region to stop importing blood in 1984, after the discovery of HIV/AIDS. In 1990, the government established a national blood transfusion programme and took legislative and policy measures to move to a system of 100% voluntary unpaid blood donation.

Neelam Dhingra, Coordinator of Blood Transfusion Safety at WHO, said: “The UAE has clearly demonstrated the power of political commitment and community involvement and sets an example we hope other countries will follow.”


Vision Care Institute opens at DHCC

Johnson & Johnson Vision Care has opened the Vision Care Institute – a professional education centre for eye care specialists – in Dubai Healthcare City. The centre, open to eye care specialists across the region, will offer training and education about the latest developments in the field.

Ian Davies, Vice President of the Vision Care Institute, said: “We have identified common themes within the profession and developed appropriate training courses delivered by expert faculty based within and outside the Middle East region. The focus on enhancing the confidence and competence of eye care professionals will certainly lead to improved patient experience and satisfaction.”

He said the launch of the institute at DHCC – the institute is part of a global network of such centres – “is in direct response to the needs of the eye care profession and we expect to train a significant number of eye care professionals in the region”.


Yemen debates new law to stop AIDS discrimination

Yemen’s Parliament was expected to begin debating a law that aims to protect the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS and address related stigma and discrimination, Yemen’s The National reports. Abdulbari Daghish – chair of the Parliamentarians Organization to Prevent HIV/AIDS, which drafted the law – said that people living with HIV/AIDS face widespread and multiple forms of discrimination and that their rights should be protected.

Daghish said that “there is a need for this law in order to protect the rights of the people living with HIV” and to “ensur[e] they get proper medication and care.” According to Daghish, some HIV-positive people are fired from their jobs or find it difficult to receive treatment and care. He added that the “draft law addresses all these sorts of discrimination and outlaws them.” Under the proposed law, people living with HIV/AIDS will have access to no-cost health care, public health facilities, financial support and no-cost psychological resources. The law also stipulates that a government fund be established in cooperation with the private sector to support people living with the disease and their families.

According to Abdulhamid al Suhaibi, director of Yemen's National AIDS Programme, during the first three months of 2008, 47 new HIV cases were reported in the country, increasing the total number of recorded cases to 2,370. However, World Health Organisation reports suggest that for every reported case of HIV, there are as many as 30 unreported cases. Khalid Abdulmajeed – the AIDS programme officer for the United Nations Development Programme in Sana'a, Yemen – said: “People are afraid to talk about” living with the disease.

He added: “There is no legal protection for such patients. There is no efficient health system to provide medicine and advice. All these (factors) make the situation frightful and HIV/AIDS a silent disease.”

Abdulmajeed noted that officials from Yemen and UNDP signed a $10.6 million, three-year agreement to strengthen the fight against the disease in the country. However, “HIV/AIDS issues must be incorporated into government policy and legislation” to effectively address the disease, Abdulmajeed said, adding: “The work being done is less than what it should be due to lack of institutional work among government agencies” (Al Qadhi, The National, 7/7).

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Foreign workers with AIDS in Jordan

The Jordan Times reports that of the 250,000 foreign workers who underwent health testing this year, more than 30 tested positive for HIV/AIDS.

Khalid Abu Rumman, director of the Ministry of Health's foreign worker health department, told the newspaper that the positive cases were of various nationalities. He said the registered cases were sent back to their home countries due to the expensive cost of treatment.

He added that required health tests also revealed that more than 300 foreign workers tested positive for hepatitis A and some 100 with tuberculosis.


Call for cooperation in GCC nursing

Saudi Arabia’s Arab News reports from Jeddah that a recent meeting of the Gulf Health Club for Nursing has stressed the need for cooperation among GCC states with regards the shortage of nurses and the quality of nursing in the region.

The newspaper reported that only 25% of nurses in the Kingdom is a Saudi. In Kuwait only 8% are local. It noted that Oman and Bahrain have both implemented aggressive policies to increase the number of local nurses.

Dr Tawfik Khoja, honorary president of the club and the director general of the Executive Board of the Council of Health Ministers of GCC states, said the club plans to launch a website before the end of the year and publish a magazine starting January 2009 which will serve as a reference body for research.

He said the shortage of nurses is a universal issue and that steps were being taken to encourage locals to choose nursing as a profession. According to the report he said a committee would start work next year to create five main specialties in nursing.


Saudi honoured for role in combating blindness

The international agency for prevention of blindness has given two awards to Saudi Arabia for its efforts to combat blindness, according to the Saudi Gazette.

Saudi Minister of Health Dr Hamad Bin Abdullah Al- Mane received the global partnership award and regional achievement award in recognition for the kingdom’s role in supporting the programme of combating blindness as well as the decisions of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the field of prevention of blindness.

Dr Al-Mane noted the generous support being extended to the health sector by the Saudi leadership and praised the role being played by Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Ahmad Bin Abdul Aziz, the head of the East Mediterranean region for prevention of blindness in combating blindness.

He said that the East Mediterranean was the only WHO region where all of its members have voiced support for Vision 2020 – a global initiative for the elimination of avoidable blindness, launched jointly by the WHO and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness.


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