The first nationwide study of schizophrenia treatments begins this month, examining the drugs and doses given to 600 patients.
Doctors from Kuwait and Qatar will also take part in the study, the first of its kind in the Gulf.
It is being run jointly by the Ministry of Health, the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi and a drug company, AstraZeneca.
About 24 million people worldwide are believed to suffer from schizophrenia, with symptoms including delusions, paranoia and a lack of emotion. The illness usually affects young adults, commonly those between 15 and 35.
Doctors suspect about one person in 100 is a victim, but there is little data about its prevalence in the UAE.
This lack of information is concerning, according to Dr Tarek Abdulla Darwish, a consultant psychiatrist and the medical director of the Behavioural Sciences Pavilion at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, because proper medication is essential for managing the condition. His clinic will study about 50 patients over six months.
Patients are usually treated using antipsychotics, including older drugs such as chlorpromazine (sold as Thorazine), haloperidol (sold as Haldol) and newer medications such as olanzapine (sold as Zyprexa).
"Are our psychiatrists still using old drugs?" asked Dr Darwish. "Or are they only using new drugs? Are they using the drugs according to clinical guidelines, or are they choosing not to abide by them?"
Both older and newer medicines have their place, he said, but the older ones tend to have more noticeable side effects, including rigidity, tremors and involuntary movement of the tongue and hands.
Newer medications also have drawbacks, for example, some patients can become more susceptible to weight gain.
The study hopes to reveal the extent to which psychiatrists manage treatment, said Dr Talaat Matar, the head of the psychiatry department at Seif Bin Ghabbash Hospital in Ras Al Khaimah.
The research will also consider how effective the treatments are after a psychotic turn.
"Acute psychotic episodes in patients with schizophrenia still remain a significant challenge for clinicians," Dr Matar said, adding that the results would also help regulate care across the country.
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