x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Health changes will also affect behaviour

Correctly implemented, these changes should improve the health of the country and reduce the amount of money spent on health care

The two days the UAE Cabinet has spent on Sir Bani Yas Island must rank as two of the most productive days in recent Government history. On Sunday, a raft of new changes were announced to education, one of the broadest reforms to the sector in many years. Similarly, on Monday, far reaching reforms to the health sector were unveiled.

Any one of these, taken separately, has the potential to drastically alter the lives of individuals. Collectively, these changes should have a significant impact on the health and well-being of the current and future generations.

Some of the changes, such as the long-overdue nationwide accreditation for doctors, will have a wide impact, although individual patients are unlikely to immediately notice it. But three of the changes will have a knock-on impact in other fields, affecting individual behaviour and increasing their power to reform.

Take the decision to regularly test the health of Emiratis. This will have immediate results, by detecting any potential illnesses early, but it will also have a longer-term psychological effect. There’s nothing like an expected visit to the doctor to focus the mind on healthy living. Even if such psychological effects are short term, they will, inevitably, provide a push towards more healthy living. For children, the effect of this is increased: parents will be more willing to make drastic changes to improve the health of their children than they might make to improve their own.

There is also a psychological component to the decision to limit the size of fizzy drinks sold in the country. When a similar decision was taken in New York, it sparked a furious debate about the “nanny state”. In itself that is a debate worth having – to what extent can the Government seek to influence the lifestyle choices of people? But in this case there is a small nudge in the right direction, because, in the case of soft drinks, too often large quantities are sold for a small price.

The other change that will have an important effect is the nationwide health database. Not only will this allow hospitals to more easily access patient information, but it will also empower researchers to spot patterns in the health data and take appropriate action.

Taken together, these changes are an indicator of how seriously lifestyle diseases, such as obesity, and those that will benefit from early screening, such as diabetes, are taken. Regular cancer screening will also improve detection rates and help save lives.

Correctly implemented these changes should improve the health of the country and reduce the amount of money spent on health care in years to come.