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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Abu Dhabi health survey paints a grim picture as lifestyle diseases take toll on residents

Road accidents second most common cause of deaths, finds department of health study

Obesity and diabetes are closely linked to heart disease. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Obesity and diabetes are closely linked to heart disease. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Abu Dhabi, accounting for 37 per cent of all fatalities, according to the latest statistics released by the Department of Health on Monday.

Its report, Health Statistics 2016, sounds the alarm on lifestyle diseases. In total, there were 3,283 deaths of various causes in Abu Dhabi in 2016.

However, deaths from cardiovascular diseases have increased by 2 per cent since 2015.

Startlingly, the report noted that a screening programme for UAE nationals called ‘Weqaya’ (Arabic for ‘prevention’), showed that 71 per cent of citizens had at least one cardiovascular disease risk factor; a fact many of them were unaware of and had thus not sought treatment.

Heart disease was followed by “injuries”, a category that includes road accident deaths, as the second most prevalent cause of death in Abu Dhabi - at 20 per cent ­- and then by cancer at 15 per cent. In 2008, there were 350 cancer deaths – in 2016 there were 421 deaths.

“The reason why cardiovascular death is on the rise globally and in the UAE is mainly related to the prevalence of modifiable cardiovascular risk factors in the population like diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidaemia, smoking, sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy diet and obesity. Other factors like family history, age and gender will not by themselves explain why prevalence has risen in the past years,” said Dr Maged Fahim, a specialist cardiologist at Medeor Hospital.

“Many patients have uncontrolled modifiable risk factors due to bad lifestyle habits and a lack of awareness about the impact this has on their health,” Dr Fahim said.

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The best way to tackle this problem, Dr Fahim said is to increase public awareness “about how important it is to achieve control over these risk factors, to increase access to family health care clinics with national guidelines tailored to achieving a structured healthcare approach for reaching target goals for these risk factors.”

Countries like the UK, he said, incentivise family physicians to reach smoking cessation targets.

“It doesn't have to be financial, it could be in the form of reduced CME (continuous medical education) hours for renewing their licence, free attendance to CME activities. Also incentives for patients themselves by giving discounts on public services based on objective improvement in their risk factors like weight loss follow up and diabetes control follow up. Also insurance companies should help by giving discounts to people who achieve objective targets instead of raising insurance costs - as the aim is to help people improve.”

Four more Emiratis died in Abu Dhabi in 2016 than did in 2015, and 1,120 deaths in total were reported.

Whereas 115 more expatriates died in 2016, 2,161 deaths were recorded, compared to 2015.

Birth rates increased year on year, despite declining total fertility rates, with 327 more babies born to UAE nationals in 2016, totalling 16,782. Expatriate birth also increased, by 542, to 22,911 in 2016.

However, the report indicated that the UAE’s total fertility rate had declined from 4.4 to 1.8 per woman between 1990 and 2013, according to World Health Statistics 2015.

Declining birth rates were attributed to urbanisation, delayed marriage, changing attitudes about family size, and increased education and work opportunities for women.

UAE nationals make up just 18.2 per cent of Abu Dhabi’s population and 67.3 per cent of them are aged under 30. Expatriates are predominately aged between 20 and 40, of which a significant share are employed in construction and living in labour camps. Of the 19.9 per cent deaths due to injuries, 20.7 per cent of these are due to occupational injuries.

Sheikh Abdulla bin Mohammad Al Hamed, chairman of the Department of Health, said: “Providing quality healthcare for the people in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi continuous to be a top priority on the Abu Dhabi government agenda, and one of the strategic pillars in the country’s sustainability plans.

"The Healthcare Sector in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi has witnessed a remarkable growth in quality and quantity over the past few years.”

Mohamed Al Hameli, acting under-secretary of the Department of Health, said: “The ... report presents a clear picture of the health status in the Emirate, which help us project future healthcare needs and put the necessary plans to meet those demands.”