Dubai // The region must be wary of rising medical costs and their potential effect on the poor, says Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, wife of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE.
"The most destructive maladies worldwide and in the Gulf region are not infectious diseases but diseases we create with our own behaviour," she said.
In her keynote speech at the Leaders in Health care conference at Arab Health Congress in the emirate, Princess Haya told the audience she found the growing link between medicine and commercialism "disturbing".
"Each year, medical bills drive more than 100 million people into poverty," she said.
"In some countries, the cost of medical interventions and drug development has been distorted by the costly explosion in litigation. It is unlikely that we will get a steady handle on inflation of medical costs until, somehow, this is brought under control."
She also told the audience that despite efforts to eradicate diseases, non-communicable illnesses such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease had reached epidemic proportions.
"The awe-inspiring growth in the Gulf has transformed our lives, but this change in lifestyles has come at a high price: a surge in non-communicable diseases," she said.
The princess said the solution lay in promoting healthier lifestyles and focusing far more on prevention, especially since obesity in the UAE is rising at an alarming rate.
"What is interesting about the UAE is the major disparity in obesity rates between men and women. Men continue to have a far lower rate of obesity, 17 per cent less than women, who climbed to an incidence of 31 per cent."
She said every individual can take an active role in public health by looking after their personal health, their family and their community.
Princess Haya encouraged regular check-ups, and said that people should pay particular attention to blood sugar, cholesterol and other key markers. In addition, the princess said the healthier diets would lower the incidence of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
"The largest single killer here today is Type-2 Diabetes, and the UAE sadly ranks second in the prevalence of the disease globally," said Princess Haya. "In some Gulf countries, diabetes causes one death in every four that occurs between the ages of 25 and 64. It's a very chilling statistic."
The princess concluded: "We can adopt healthier lifestyles. We can create a culture of prevention to cope with the health challenges that we now face. But the question is: will we? I hope so, and each of you can help with that today."