x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

An epidemic of overmedicating is making parents sick

Are some doctors in the UAE prescribing too much medicine?

Gone are the days when your local doctor could solve your medical issues with just a few pills. Nowadays, you have to bring your own bags from home to carry out the boxes of medication prescribed, even for the most minor of ailments.

As a new parent this is particularly troubling. Nothing is more agonising and heartbreaking than attempting to give a six-month-old baby seven medications for a cold, three times a day. Is this really necessary?

All patients, and parents administering to their children, should do more to educate themselves on medicines and medical advice.

But there is only so much we can decide on our own.

Hospitals and health authorities, therefore, must assist us in getting this over-medication crisis under control.

The UAE has made great leaps in the field of health care over the past few decades. Only 50 years ago, our grandfathers survived on traditional and herbal medicine. This rapid transition to where we are today is one of the UAE's greatest achievements. The introduction of Thiqa and Daman insurance, for instance, has done wonders for nationals and residents alike.

Yet, the fact remains that over-prescribing has now become a major concern for many families in Abu Dhabi and across the country.

Many accuse the private health care sector of encouraging doctors to abuse the generous system provided by the government of Abu Dhabi by over-prescribing medicine. Some claim that it is the lack of education or experience among our doctors. Others have openly accused doctors of overmedicating their patients to uphold an agreement between them and pharmaceutical companies.

Since I enjoy a good conspiracy theory as much as the next man, I also held an open mind to the rumours that said many doctors benefited from the types of medicine they prescribe, be it financially or otherwise. These rumours were confirmed when personal friends became doctors.

But it took a recent personal visit to one of Abu Dhabi's more prestigious and popular private hospitals to understand the true extent of this problem.

As I began to describe my symptoms to the doctor, a scruffy gentlemen holding a salesman's suitcase apologetically walked in and rudely disrupted our conversation, asking for a few minutes of the doctor's time. He then proceeded to open his suitcase pitch all the different new medicines he had in his bag like he was selling Rolex watches in a dark alley. The doctor selected three samples, asked for the research and requested a meeting with the pharmaceutical company the following week.

Whether this situation was misinterpreted or not, it only confirmed my suspicion that many doctors continue to willingly drown their patients with medication. Perhaps there are already regulations implemented by the health authority to control the type and quantity of drugs prescribed by doctors. If that is the case, we could begin by educating the public about these rules.

As a parent, my priority is to ensure that the medication I give my children can be justified. Of course, it will take time for our health care system to further mature. Public hospitals have received the deserved attention over the past few years by the government, resulting in miraculous advancements in government hospitals across the city. From paediatrics all the way to brain surgery, personnel, facilities and equipment are astounding.

But while it will take time before private hospitals receive the needed regulatory attention, the issue of over-medication persists.

As a citizen, I have faith that the health authorities will eventually tackle this issue. As a parent, I wish some one would start doing that today.


Taryam Al Subaihi is an Abu Dhabi-based political and social commentator who specialises in corporate communications

On Twitter: @TaryamAlSubaihi