AL GHARBIA // A group of 10 women sat on traditional Bedouin cushions in the Al Marfa'a wedding hall waiting for a rarity in their corner of the UAE: free, "WEsgood quality" medical check-ups.
They and other Al Marfa'a residents will have access to previously unavailable medical services as part of a seven-day Red Crescent Authority (RCA) campaign that began yesterday. There is a hospital in the area, but many specialist clinics do not exist. Through the RCA programme, residents will be tested for illnesses that include diabetes, hepatitis B, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and anaemia.
Doctors from across the emirate are providing the comprehensive medical check-ups, referring the more complicated cases to RCA-sponsored colleagues who have set up facilities in the hospital. Specialists include ear-nose-throat, dermatology, internal medicine, orthopaedic, maternity, surgery, ophthalmology and paediatric. Residents said they welcomed the influx of technology and doctors.
"The hospital here doesn't do much," said Fatima Yousef, 42, who has lived in Al Marfa'a for 15 years. "I once took my brother's wife to the hospital because she was tired. They made her lie down for a while, then they told her, 'There is nothing wrong with you, you can leave.' But she could not even move."
Mrs Yousef said she was planning to see the orthopaedics specialist because she has back problems. She said she had tried several times to get an appointment at the local police hospital - her husband is an officer - but was always told there was no availability. In addition to medical services, the campaign also aims to develop health awareness and improve residents' living conditions. Sessions on students' roles in avoiding drug addiction, first aid for women and sea rescue are being held.
A portable mammography lab for breast cancer is available for women aged 40 and older. During the first two hours of the campaign, about 40 women signed up for mammogram appointments.
"Those aged below 40, we give them special breast cancer testing gloves and we teach them how to conduct the home test," said Dr Meerna Ghannoum, a radiologist at Almazroui Hospital.
"The most important part of the campaign is raising people's awareness and not just the charity or free services that are offered," said Saeed al Mansouri, the executive director of citizen affairs at the Ruler's Representative Court in Al Gharbia. "Education is what will benefit the 15,000 residents as a whole."
Added Ahmad al Mazrouei, chairman of the RCA: "The Red Crescent is not a charity; it is an international humanitarian organisation that takes care of human beings from all aspects. Society has a big role at the RCA, because humanitarian work requires a combination of efforts." Indeed, residents said they welcomed not just the medical aid, but the chance for permanent change.
"We don't do anything here; we wake up our children, feed them breakfast, clean the house, do the laundry, visit our neighbours and family," said Hamda Yousef, 45, who moved to Al Marfa'a with her husband 30 years ago. "I wish they would open a factory, anything for us to work in, even if they give us only Dh2,000."
Maryam Yousef, another resident, said she was desperate to get a job as a school bus supervisor, but her application was rejected because she did not continue her education past first grade. "I never had the chance to study because I kept having children," she said.
The campaign and treatments are sponsored by Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, the Ruler's Representative to Al Gharbia and the president of the RCA, as part of a series of support campaigns to cover the Western Region and the UAE.