ABU DHABI // Almost every Emirati in the capital will be sent an individual health report card within two months detailing their risk of heart disease or stroke. Those in most danger will be told to seek immediate medical help - and will be telephoned repeatedly until they do, the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (HAAD) said yesterday.
Of the 180,000 Emiratis screened under the Weqaya programme in the past two years, 70 per cent were found to have at least one risk factor leading to cardiovascular disease. Weqaya ("precaution") was launched by HAAD in April 2008. Every Emirati renewing their Thiqa health insurance card has been screened for the main risk indicators for heart disease or stroke: cholesterol, blood pressure, body mass index (BMI) and blood sugar, and smoking.
"The idea is to connect with each individual personally," said Dr Salim Adib, the manager of public health and research at HAAD. "We can then share the results with each person and explain what these results mean to their health. "We want every person to be aware of how at risk they are of cardiovascular disease, and then we want to eliminate that risk," he said. So far, 96 per cent of adult Emiratis in Abu Dhabi have been screened. The rest will be checked when they renew their health insurance cards. The screening will be repeated every three years.
Dr Cother Hajat, the head of HAAD's public health programme, said most of the remaining four per cent were aged between 20 and 24. "This young population are away studying," she said. "They are the ones we expect have not been screened yet, but we will follow up with them." Each health report will use a traffic light indicator system for each risk factor - green for normal, amber for moderate and red for high.
It will also contain advice on how people can improve their results through lifestyle changes and how they can seek further medical advice. Dr Adib said every recipient had the responsibility to follow up on the results. To do this, they can either visit the Weqaya website - www.weqaya.ae - or call a helpline, 800 61116. Children will be targeted separately through the combined efforts of the Abu Dhabi Education Council and others.
Dr Hajat said the adult results clearly showed that a lot of work had to be done in order to improve the health of the Emirati population, most of whom are at high risk of cardiovascular disease. They found that a third of adults are overweight, and another third are obese. At least one out of five have diabetes and another third are at high risk of getting it in the near future. The message being sent, said Dr Hajat, is that not only older people with symptoms have to take action, but most of the rest of the Emirati population do, too.
"Giving people this information about themselves is the first step, but getting them to see a doctor is the goal," she said. "We will actively call people and tell them they have to follow up until they do - we want to see progress." Dr Mahmoud Ibrahim, the head of the health promotion section at HAAD, said as well as persuading people to see a doctor, HAAD's biggest hope was to inspire a change of lifestyle.
"Cardiovascular disease and its risk factors are chronic diseases which are lifestyle diseases that require health awareness and a change in habits," he said. "Our role is to show how you can adopt positive habits that will help greatly in living a healthy life." Dr Adib said no other government had tested its entire population for the diseases that are the biggest killers in the modern world. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide as well as in the UAE, where it causes between 40 to 45 per cent of deaths each year.
"If this works," said Dr Adib, "we will have found a way to prevent against cardiovascular disease by empowering the individual." The HAAD Statistics 2009 report, released last week, revealed the authority is planning for "aggressive growth" of services in the next decade, particularly in diabetes and cardiovascular care. Although the report highlighted a need for more endocrinologists and cardiologists, Dr Hajat said adequate resources are available.
"People should follow up with their primary health care provider, so appointments will be made for them with general physicians and family physicians," she said.
The capital has 1,579 registered family physicians, but the report said more are needed.