x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Doctors urge action on the UAE's No 1 killer

Calls for new federal programme to curb heart disease - the cause of 25 per cent of deaths in the country.

DUBAI //Doctors have called for a centralised, long-term programme to tackle heart disease, the nation's biggest single killer.

Heart disease is the cause of 25 per cent of deaths in the UAE, and the average age of contracting the disease is 15 years younger than in the western world.

A national board should be set up under the federal government with a clear timetable for cutting the death rate, said Dr Wael Abdulrahman Al Mahmeed, president of the Emirates Cardiac Society.

The board would include health, food and Islamic affairs authorities, media and schools.

"Everybody is doing small things in their own spheres, but to really have an impact you need a national plan," Dr Al Mahmeed said.

Different authorities would carry out their own programmes, coordinated at federal level.

Food control authorities could initiate laws to regulate the labelling of foods, along with education campaigns to teach consumers how to interpret and understand the labels.

Islamic affairs authorities could regularly circulate Friday sermons on how to avoid heart disease.

Schools could ban junk food and sugary drinks from canteens.

Central government could increase taxation on cigarettes and tobacco, a major factor in heart disease.

"It would look at all the aspects of heart disease, and look at ways to reduce it," Dr Al Mahmeed said. "It would be a very complex thing and would require a lot of input."

Dr Al Mahmeed said the UAE could follow the example of Finland, which in the 1960s had the highest mortality rate from heart disease in the world, but managed to reduce those levels by 80 per cent through a dedicated national programme centred on healthy eating.

Obaid Al Jassim, head of cardiothoracic surgery at Dubai Hospital, agreed that a collaborative approach is needed.

"Everyone is doing something little here, or something little there," he said. "The effect is not that big.

"It's important for everyone to join forces. If you had a national programme for the whole country, it's more unified.

"In other countries they do big things, and they see big results. If you do something small here, after a while it's forgotten."

Dr Naeem Tareen, chief of cardiology at the American Heart Centre Dubai, said the fragmented nature of the health landscape meant a concerted effort was needed.

"There are so many different healthcare bodies," he said. "A lot of things are overlapping with each other. Everyone needs to work together to tackle the issue."

Dr Al Mahmeed said the reason the issue had not been previously addressed may have been the difficulty in coordinating so many different authorities.

"You also need to bring all these people together and on the same page," he said. "That is not an easy task and is quite complicated."